Lucy Barton says:
But there are times, too – unexpected – when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. 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. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are free completely from terror, I realize I don’t know how others are. So much of life seems speculation (14).
I liked that Lucy said this. It feels like such an intimate confession. How many times have I walked down the sidewalk, believing that other people seemed to be very confident with themselves and their lives, while I was feeling like a lonely sinking ship out in the open sea? But the truth is, I think many people feel this sense of loneliness that Lucy describes. It’s just hard to tell because it’s not something that people advertise about themselves. When Lucy talked about being “filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep” that she feels the urge to strike up a conversation with a stranger just to tamper down that sense of loneliness, I felt multiple emotions. First, I immediately felt pity. Then, I realized that the person walking into a clothing store in November – escaping from the cold, and warming herself up with a light conversation with a stranger – could easily have been me. It’s possible to be surrounded by many people and still feel desperately lonely. From what Lucy said, I felt both pity and empathy.
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is one of the strangest books I have read, mostly because the story doesn’t seem to flow from the beginning to the end of the book. The story is told in snippets that feel (to me, at least) as though they were arranged randomly. And honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it even by the end of the story. What I do know is that in the beginning of the novel, Lucy Barton is ill, and for most of the book, she is staying at the hospital to recover. Her mother comes to visit her, and while I know this now, when I was reading the book, I wondered if Lucy was imagining her mother. I had to pick up on textual cues, such as “the doctors looked at both my mother and me” (this is not an actual quote) to make sure that Lucy was speaking to her actual mother, and not the ghost of her mother. At times, I went back to these cues a few times, just to make sure.
While I understand that this book is about the complicated relationship between Lucy Barton and her mother, what I liked was when Lucy mentioned things about herself and her own life, especially things like this:
Looking back, I imagine that I was very odd, that I spoke too loudly, or that I said nothing when things of popular culture were mentioned; I think I responded strangely to ordinary types of humor that were unknown to me. I think I didn’t understand the concept of irony at all, and that confused people. (28)
From listening to the story of her life, I got to know the “internal” side of Lucy Barton. But for someone who doesn’t know this side of her, they may only see what is on the “outside,” which may be simple facts such as that Lucy Barton is a mother of two daughters. Oh, and that she has divorced her first husband (the father of her two daughters) and is now married to her second husband. Once, her mother-in-law (from her first husband) told someone that Lucy came from “nothing,” which could refer to the fact that when Lucy was growing up, her family didn’t own a house of their own. But this is no longer the case by the time Lucy tells her story. I think it’s even possible that if one were to pass Lucy Barton on the street, she may seem to be just another person walking down the sidewalk with confidence, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.
This book reminded me that there are things we will never know about those around us unless they choose to share with us. I guess the same works for what we ourselves choose to disclose to others. In either case, Lucy Barton tells the reader:
“…this one is my story. This one. And my name is Lucy Barton.”
Strout, Elizabeth. My Name Is Lucy Barton: a Novel. Random House, 2016.