My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout, author, Kimberly Farr, narrator
When the book begins, Lucy tells the reader that once, in the 1980’s, she had been in the hospital for nine weeks from an appendix operation gone wrong. Her story revolves around this confinement; and this is her story.
Lucy managed to survive a very dysfunctional childhood in ways her siblings did not. She was totally unworldly having never even seen a television show growing up or gone to a move. She was bullied at school and neglected at home because of her poverty, but she bore no grudge against anyone. When she managed to get an education and move away, she never returned home, but she continued to not only want her parents’ love and acceptance, she also continued to love them.
Lucy eventually married, had a family and became a published author. When she had to have her appendix removed, her recovery was impeded by an unknown infection that attacked her. Unable to eat and hold food down, she could not leave the hospital. Her husband hated hospitals and could not bear the sights or sounds. Lucy was sad and lonely. Without telling Lucy, he called her mother and asked her to come to “babysit”. She remained there for 5 days, watching over her daughter, hardly sleeping, just sitting there and talking to her about the people she knew from her past, calling her by her pet childhood name, Wizzle-dee. Lucy was childlike, wondering why her mom had come to see her, asking if she loved her. Although her mom’s parenting skills may have been lacking, her presence comforted Lucy. She and her mother began to bond and converse as they had never done before. Pieces of her past and the painful moments of her life were revealed as their conversations moved easily back and forth in time from the present to the past. Were her memories real or imagined? Was there really a big brown snake? Was it something else?
Although Lucy asked her mom many questions, she did not give direct answers and revealed nothing personal about herself except for a brief comment about not feeling safe. Her mom was an enigma. She certainly was not maternal, although from their conversations, it was apparent that she cared for Lucy. Still, she left the hospital abruptly on the day Lucy was scheduled for further surgery which was telling. She left never seeing her son-in-law or her grandchildren for the first time. She simply announced that she knew everything would be all right, and in spite of Lucy’s cries for her to stay, she left.
Over the five days her mom sat and talked with her in her hospital room, visibly showing the effects of her illness with her frailty and thinness, she and her mother spoke to each other as they had never had before; her mother told Lucy about all the people they had known. She identified their weak spots, found their faults and shame and exposed them to Lucy. They laughed together about the tragicomic tales her mother told. Her mom was invested in the emotional pain of strangers in much the same way that Lucy was invested in those that showed her compassion, like her doctor, her artist, and other men in her life. Her mother’s devotion to Lucy during her visit was complete. Although her mom was not demonstrative and was at times abusive, was she also loyal and loving? As they spoke to each other, Lucy was unsure if her memories were real or imagined. Lots of thoughts and questions raced through my mind as I read the book, none of which were answered, in much the same way as Lucy’s questions also remained unanswered!
I found the book interesting. Through Lucy’s thoughts, we see the overworked nurses and witness the resultant lack of attention and true care given to the patients whose cries go unanswered. As the thoughts of Lucy and her mother are revealed, we witness the unfolding of a neglected mother-daughter relationship. We discover they are both needy, both in some emotional and psychological pain, both refusing to reveal their innermost secrets to the other and both unable to speak of certain events in their lives. Both are still dysfunctional. Her mother was able to intuit a great deal about her child, even without having seen her for years. She apologized to Lucy for their poverty, the poverty that subjected her to humiliation.
This story is about a mother and her child from both perspectives. Lucy also had her own children whom she missed terribly in the hospital. Was Lucy’s mom correct in her perception that all would be well for Lucy in the end? It seemed to me that because Lucy had not experienced open affection at home and experienced hostility outside, she sought respect, love and affection from others ever after, but was surprised when she received it and didn’t believe her self worthy of the attention. Their thoughtfulness amazed her. She carried her childhood sense of loss and insecurity around with her, and she wondered if her mom had suffered as well as they somewhat revealed their hearts to each other.
The narrator reads this book in the manner in which it was written, slowly and laboriously, she reads too slowly. There is actually dead space on the audio; caused by her lengthy pauses, for effect; water might boil faster. Fortunately for me, I had a print copy to fall back on.