Lucy Barton is ill and since her husband has to care for their children, her mother comes to New York to support the daughter in hospital. They haven’t seen each other for years, neither has Luca been at her parents’ home nor did they come to the Big Apple to visit her. The mother’s appearance triggers memories of her childhood which was marked by poverty and being excluded, her dream of becoming a writer, the chance to get an education and the long and difficult path into the society of which she did not know the codes of conduct and values. Albeit the hardship as a child, Lucy never doubted her parents’ love for all their children and even if until their last day they were unable to express it, she can be sure of it even if it is never spoken out with words.
Elizabeth Strout’s novel is an in-depth study of a complex family story. The link which is established by birth and which can never be cut becomes obvious and clearly outlines that no matter the financial background, love and care can be expressed in different ways. Her protagonist and narrator tells her life story without remorse even though she could complain about her hard start in life. She does not hide the sadder parts of her life and does not idealize life in poverty as full of love instead. She manages to walk on the fine line between factual narration about her family’s situation and the emotional state in which she experienced this as a child as well as an adult. It is this exactly this which gives the novel its credibility and authenticity. Life in not black and white and easy attributions do not exist.
The tone is what I appreciated most while reading. You really feel like sitting next to a hospitalized person who sometimes is weaker, on some days is stronger, whose memories come and go, who recollects single events and is not up to give a full account of her life but provides you with a mosaic view which nevertheless becomes a complete picture in the end. Another great novel by a wonderful author.