October 23, 2022
Lucy by the Sea
I first met Elizabeth Strout’s writing through the voice of Olive Kitteridge, and loved the acerbic, achingly honest tone of this character.
Lucy Barton is a little more of an acquired taste for me … she has a helpless, fragile quality to her that can be annoying. She relies on other people to be practical, to make her life work, particularly here in the time of Covid, where her ex-husband sees the writing on the wall and makes all the arrangements for Lucy to leave New York with him, to rent a house in Maine.
She sits around feeling sad and bewildered while he sorts things out, getting her a studio to write in, introducing her to new friends, and keeping their daughters safe. The contrast between the pair, as they lock down away from home, creates some of the loveliest insights in the novel.
He gets involved in potato parasite research to help a newly discovered nephew and talks about that topic more than Lucy would like, while failing to thoroughly discuss the personal slights she feels when someone ignores her, or wants all New Yorkers to go home. She likes to talk a lot in the evenings, and he tends to ignore a lot of that, busy with his own thoughts.
And yet here they are, irritating each other, but deeply connected, and as the lockdown goes on, I start to understand why William likes to hang out with her so much. This is another book that I really didn’t want to finish because Lucy engages deeply in what it is like to be other people. And she never lets herself off the hook – she sees herself, and how she is seen by others.