It is always exciting for a book lover to discover an author that they hadn’t read before, but once discovering them, are so enthralled that they need to rush out and read everything they have written.
That is what happened to me recently with the author, Elizabeth Strout.
Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books – none of which I read before this year. I am so glad I finally found her! The New Jersey State Library’s recent fiction collection contains two of her novels – The Burgess Boys, and My Name is Lucy Barton. Both are written in a clear and meaningful way that powerfully captures emotions and give depth to the characters.
The Burgess Boys tells the story of a family from Maine. At the heart of it are two brothers, Bob and Jim Burgess. Both have moved out of Maine and now live in New York City, but live very different lives. Jim is a successful and well known lawyer with all of the trappings of the “good life.” Bob has struggled more and seems to lack confidence, and Jim is infuriatingly condescending and often downright insulting toward him. These brothers must come together to help their sister, Susan, and her son who are still in Maine. The sister’s troubled teenage son has committed a bias crime against the Somali community in their small Maine town, and they must now deal with the legal and emotional repercussions of this act.
Meanwhile, the story also touches on an accident in the Burgess siblings’ past, when they were children and were involved in a tragic accident that killed their father. This accident has shadowed their lives and is an undercurrent in their relationships. The descriptive writing and detailed characters are strengths of the book, which is why it is no surprise that it is being made into an HBO series.
My Name is Lucy Barton is Strout’s most recent book. It is a short, captivating and emotional novel. The book is told in first person with Lucy Barton reflecting upon two months that she spent in the hospital years ago.
During her hospital stay she is stunned to see that her mother has come to visit her. Lucy’s mother has never traveled outside of her Midwestern town before and Lucy lives in New York City. Their relationship is strained and they haven’t seen each other for many years, so Lucy is deeply affected by the fact that her mother managed to find her way to New York to see her.
As Lucy looks back upon this hospital visit, and also on her life, the reader learns about Lucy’s childhood in which she was often deeply sad, destitute and neglected, but managed to break away from her circumstances, educate herself, and move to New York City to become a writer.
An aspect of the book that I really loved was how Lucy talks about the small kindnesses in this world which can make a difference to someone’s life. In Lucy’s story, she describes incidents of kindness from a janitor, a teacher, a doctor, and others. All deeply affect her and some even change her life.
The writing throughout the book is lovely. Here is an example in which Lucy describes the Chrysler Building, which she can see from her hospital window:
“The light from the Chrysler Building shown like the beacon it was, of the largest and best hopes for mankind and its aspirations and desire for beauty. That was what I wanted to tell my mother about this building we saw.”
Elizabeth Strout was interviewed in early 2016 on NPR’s Fresh Air program:
The Burgess Boys. Strout, Elizabeth.
Call # F STR McNaughton – Level 3
My Name is Lucy Barton. Strout, Elizabeth.
Call # F STR McNaughton – Level 3
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