"My Name Is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout review – learning to love
Nothing has been easy for the young Lucy Barton, a Midwest writer who tries to make her way in New York in the seventies. Born into an underprivileged family in a rural Illinois town, Lucy Barton has only bitter memories of her childhood: poverty, mistreatment, lack of affection at home. His father was an authoritarian and severe man, and his mother could not tolerate anyone crying or self-pitying. Lucy dreamed of escaping one day from the social marginalization and boredom of the deep America.
Lying in the bed of a hospital in Manhattan, where she recovers from a serious illness, Lucy Barton remembers her past and learns to value what she has achieved so far. As a child, the only thing that made her smile was to run through the corn and soy fields that surrounded the family farm. Now she has other reasons to be happy: her two daughters, and her motivation to become a writer.
The only pending subject in her life is her mother, whom she has not seen since Lucy left home to marry her current husband and move to New York, more than ten years ago. So when she suddenly sees her in the door of her room in the hospital, Lucy decides to forget the bitter memories of childhood and attach to illusion. The illusion of regaining a mother's love is stronger than the past.
Her mum’s visit also helps her to beat a growing loneliness: Lucy knows that while she is in the hospital, her husband cheats her with their daughters’ babysitter. However, what happens outside Lucy’s hospital doesn’t seem to interest the author. In her latest novel, Elizabeth Strout focuses reality on a hospital room where a mother and daughter try to spin the loose ends of a lost childhood.
Written in the first person, a mixture of personal diary and conversations between mother and daughter, My name is Lucy Barton is a love story. It is the story of a young woman from the American Midwest who suffered the consequences of a traumatized father for killing two young Germans during World War II. He mistook them for Nazi soldiers, and never forgave him for that mistake. So when Lucy tells him that he is going to marry the son of a German prisoner of war sent to work on Maine's potato fields, he cannot stand it, so he throws them out of the house.
"My father looked at William like an older version of that person, a young man who had come back to make fun of him, to take his daughter," Lucy says, while lying in the hospital bed.
While her mother explains her the latest gossip in town, Lucy Barton recalls her arrival in New York with William and her attempts to become a writer in the midst of a liberated and progressive atmosphere, so different from his native Midwest. Her idol in New York is a well-known writer, Sarah Payne, whom she happens to meet in a store. Later, in a writing workshop, Lucy will tell her the story of her life - her marriage to William, the fight with her parents, the loneliness - to which Sarah replies:
"This is a love story, you know it. It is the story of a man tormented every day of his life by things he did in war. It is the story of a wife who stayed by her side, because that is what most of the wives of that generation did... "
The wife in question - Lucy's mother - kills time in the hospital explaining to her sick daughter the marriages that go wrong in their hometown, as if she did not want to accept that the marriage that really goes wrong is hers. Gossiping serves to camouflage the true feelings between mother and daughter. Lucy would like to hear from her mother's mouth "I love you" or "I've missed you", but she knows it's impossible.
Lucy Barton would also like to hear "I love you" from her husband. However, William does not visit her in the hospital. She realizes that she is losing him. Their lives are taking different ways, but she doesn’t hate him for that. She will always be grateful to him for having brought her to New York and supported her writing career.
"I still cannot believe I'm really in New York," Lucy confesses to her friend Jeremy, a French psychoanalyst, older than her, who lives at the same building. "The expression he put [Jeremy] was of real nuisance. I still had not heard that the townspeople are really disgusted with the real hicks. "
In Manhattan, Lucy feels like a village girl. Hence the fascination aroused by the bohemian characters she meets in New York: a presumed painter, a French psychoanalyst, a Swedish single mother, the writer Sarah Payne. Characters that open her eyes, while her closer acquaintances - her mother, her father, her husband – make her feel nostalgic and unloved.
"It's the story of a mother who loves her daughter. In an imperfect way, because we all love in an imperfect way. But while you write this novel you realize that you are protecting someone, remember one thing: you are not doing well, "advises Sarah Payne during a writing workshop.
In fact, Strout's novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009, is an ode to the genre of self-fiction. "Your duty is not to differentiate the narrative from the particular opinion of the writer," Payne says. "Your job as a fiction writer is to make known the human condition, to tell us who we are, what we think and what we do."
Finally, Lucy leaves the hospital, thinner than ever, but glad to have reconciled with her mother and to see her daughters again. In the hospital, Lucy has learned to love, to give without receiving in return. This step - forgiving your mother and father, learning to love them again - allows her to gain enough maturity to make the decision to divorce.
"Some days I have the feeling of loving him more than when I was married to him, but that is easy to think: we are free from each other, but we are not, we will never be."