My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout

This book needed no summarizing, no review. At one hundred and ninety-two pages, it is a slim book. It asks for you to pause almost at every page a few times, get the words, the meaning, the narrative of that time when these emotions and thoughts, the context of when it was written. And that almost all of us would find it resonating with us.

It so happened that as I was rereading the book to capture those expressions which would take the book to others, I sat watching a hospital from the office window.

Lucy Barton was in a hospital for nine weeks and that’s when this story took shape. A daughter who did not see any of her family since a very very long time, until the day her mother shows up at the foot of her bed in the hospital where she has been…

Excerpts as is in the book:

She talked in a way I did not remember, as though a pressure of feeling and words and observations had been stuffed down inside her for years, and her voice was breathy and un-self-conscious.

We lived with cornfields and fields of soyabeans spreading to the horizon….in the middle of the cornfields stood one tree, and its starkness was striking. For many years I thought the tree was my friend; it was my friend.

I mention this because there is the question of how children become aware of what the world is, and how to act in it.

This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true….So much of life seems speculation.

…but what I am trying to say here is that I always thought she liked my circumstances to be so much lower than her own.  She could not envy anything about me.

There are elements that determine paths taken, and we can seldom find them or point to them accurately, but I have sometimes thought how I would stay late at school, where it was warm, just to be warm. XXX I remained alone in the classroom, warm, and that was when I learned that work gets done if you simply do it. I could see the logic of my homework assignments in a way I could not if I did my work at home.

But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone. This is my point. And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone. XXX I did not know how hard it would be. But no one knows that; and that does not matter.

What I mean is, this is not just a woman’s story. It’s what happens to a lot of us, if we are lucky enough to hear that detail and pay attention to it.

I say this because I didn’t understand the art; they were dark and oblong pieces, almost-abstract-but-not-quite constructions, and I understood only that they were symptoms of a sophisticated world I could never understand.

I had not yet learned the depth of disgust city people feel for the truly provincial.

He spoke of her work, that she was a good writer, but she could not stop herself from a “softness of compassion” that revolted him, that, he felt, weakened her work.

I see children cry from tiredness, which is real, and sometimes from just crabbiness, which is real. But once in a while I se a child crying with deepest of desperation, and I think its one of the truest sounds a child can make.

I had no knowledge of popular knowledge.

Dreading-in-advance: you are wasting time by suffering twice. I mention this only to show how many things the mind cannot will itself to do, even if it wants to.

There is that constant judgement in this world: How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?

I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that’s what made me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.

I have learned this: a person gets tired. The mind or the soul or whatever word we have for whatever is not just the body gets tired, and this I have decided, is-usually, mostly-nature helping us.

It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.

At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of the horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange lines of horizon, but if you turned around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quiet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.

All life amazes me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.