My Name is Lucy Barton is about a woman who spends nine weeks in a hospital, struggling to recover from complications after a routine su
rgery. During her stay, her estranged mother comes to visit for a few days, and while she’s there, Lucy tries to make sense of her familial relationships.
Lucy is not close with her family anymore after having moved to New York City with her husband and leaving her siblings and parents behind in Amgash, Illinois. She hasn’t communicated much with any of them in the last few years. Growing up, Lucy and her family were isolated, poor, and unpopular. She has every reason to resent her family and never talk to them again, but she doesn’t. This novel explores family relationships, specifically the one between a mother and daughter, and the unconditional love between the two.
Lucy’s background sort of took me by surprise. At first she seems like a normal middle-class woman living in New York with her husband and children, but the more you learn about her upbringing, the odder her story gets. Lucy grew up, like many of us who are from the Midwest, sort of in the middle of nowhere. Her family was poverty stricken, her parents were abusive, and she was bullied by her classmates. Yet she still grows into this successful writer who has an incredible capacity for love. Throughout the book, Lucy admits to being in love with both her neighbor and her doctor among others. Lucy falls in love incredibly easily for someone who wasn’t often shown love as a child. Perhaps her astounding capacity for love is what allows her to love her dysfunctional family even though they are rather distant and cold toward her.
The timeline of the book is all over the place. Lucy recounts stories from her childhood, her early days in New York, her time spent in the hospital, and current events in no particular order, and yet it’s not difficult to follow. The reader sort of gets a sense of what experiences led Lucy to becoming the person she is. Even though I didn’t have trouble following along, there were a couple underlying themes that I wasn’t quite sure had to do with the rest of the story, such as the focus on the AIDS epidemic that seemed to have little to do with Lucy’s life other than that she lived through it.
Though we never find out what caused Lucy to be hospitalized for nine weeks, we see that her stay there and her mother’s visit impacted her greatly. She seems to come to peace with her childhood in Amgash, as does her mother. Anyone who has struggled with familial relationships can relate to this book.
By Liz Dobson