Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout Review – Confessions of a Closing | imagination

elizabeth Strout writes masterpieces at a pace you might not suspect of their vastness and unwavering beauty. Posted last year Hey William!, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. In it, her beloved narrator Lucy Barton tentatively returns with her first husband, William, thinking all the time about sympathy, loneliness and her perpetual sense of disappearance. Now Lucy by the Sea picks up the story, but a virus is spreading and we are at the dawn of a changing world.

Lucy hesitated, reflecting on the early weeks of the pandemic, “I don’t know how to say it, but my brain was having trouble accommodating things.” Here’s Lucy’s voice again, the voice that first captivated readers in 2016’s Strout My name is Lucy Barton. However, it is also strangely unfamiliar. Lucy is mysterious and detached in ways that make her weird, not least to herself. “My mind was in trouble,” she says, as if her mind was separate from itself, and so she feels it will remain throughout the awkward confusions of an unknown year.

William takes command when he sees the pandemic coming. He rented a house on the coast of Maine and hurried Lucy out of her lover, New York. He lies, “maybe only a few weeks,” as he steadily puts her computer in the car while she insists that for this short spell she’ll only need an iPad. “What are these?” Lucy asks in disbelief, seeing her plastic gloves to use on the petrol pump. He repeats: “Don’t worry about that,” and so it goes. William unceremoniously continues his self-appointed mission to save Lucy’s life. Lucy goes where she is placed, and resists getting involved in a way that is hard to fathom until we understand how she relates to her grief over her second husband, and the separation from the city they shared.

“It’s funny the things we remember, even when we think we don’t remember well anymore.” The novel takes the form of remembering Lucy. What can she recover from these months? It’s not like a Joseph Conrad or Maddox Ford narrator, it swings back and forth over time, spinning around and back in action. She makes a historian’s progress, but the unseen, the unspoken, and the forgotten are part of her theme. The pogroms of childish love and hate are back from the early days in Maine: a nagging hatred of jigsaw puzzles and the borrowed house; love of the sea. “I thought: This is it Sea! Slowly (it was ‘oddly slow’), knowledge of the situation makes its way to her; moments of sudden insight lead to greater understanding. There are incidents that Lucy cannot forget and lay before us, in a confession that does not ask for forgiveness. She has not traded her place in grocery queue for a man Elderly. She could have done the right thing, but she didn’t. It’s a test or like, short, ancient woodcut-quality engraving, inescapable in its simplicity. And this is astonishingly true with the sharp outlines of many separate and all-encompassing epidemic encounters.

Like Oh William! , This is a study of the later reunion of a man and woman who were married in their twenties. It’s hard to admire William, and Lucy’s acceptance of him requires our vigilant thinking. Strout rejects the easy complacency of a thin story, though she is deeply interested in what these people can offer each other. Lucy by the Sea is also about a mother and her adult children. They phone in times of crisis, or worse, they don’t phone. “Oh my God, did I miss those girls?” Their news of pregnancy, separation, brings overwhelming joy and anxiety. Lucy’s anxiety, amplified by the lockdown, grows into the tides so powerful that it keeps them away. Underneath it all runs Lucy’s loveless childhood, cooped up with her abusive parents in Amgache, Illinois. Conversations and silences with her mother in My Name Is Lucy Barton, and with her siblings in Anything Is Possible, are now broken into conversations with her daughters. On the airy balcony, we’re a long way from Lucy’s beginnings, but Strout is more interested than ever in the legacies of fear and discouragement, “what we came from,” and what’s been passed on.

Each of these books is complete in its own right. Their relationships are fascinating, but they would be compelling if one read Lucy’s sequence in reverse. I’m more suspicious of Strout’s insistence on that All Her novels paint the same fantasy world, where characters may reappear at any moment. Lucy and William’s borrowed house is outside Crosby, where we know the neighbors. Bob Burgess, whose family history is told The Burgess Boys, has now become a central figure. At one station, we heard about an old woman named Olive Ketterridge telling sinister stories at a nearby retirement home. It is self-reflective, sometimes at odds with transparent prose, and is reminiscent of the honorable author. But this author has a lot to show us about the past that keeps coming back, and the life that goes on whether we watch it or not.

Lucy’s account of her own experience is filled with the stories of others – people you should have known in Maine, or just heard. in a way reminiscent of the structural craftsmanship of Willa KathrynStrout opens up space for these separate anecdotes. Her style seems so rude, almost awkward, that you barely even realize what she’s doing until her strength sideways pisses you off.

The novel focuses on people lucky enough to isolate themselves and turn away from the TV news to watch the sea, but there’s a bit of complacency here. William’s daily walk to the WWII Watchtower (one of a series of towers that references indirectly throughout Strout’s novels) becomes an act of ritual witness as he reflects on the terrible history and the dangerous present. Lucy develops a quiet and meticulous friendship with Trump supporter Charlene and continues to try to think through the divisions. Small scenes of social tension are enough to drown her out with the knowledge that there is “deep and deep turmoil in the country”. As a writer, as a woman, her instinct is to imagine her way into another life. But when she writes the story of a white cop, who loves the man she creates in her novels, she backs away from publishing. Empathy can go wrong in this febrile culture. “Mostly I couldn’t trust myself: to know what to do an act These days.”

Clarity of perception alternates with skepticism in a way that readers can clearly identify as the routine of cracked elbow, amateur hairstyling, and home plumbing. Capturing the same narrative rhythm to the pressures of 2020, letting us listen as Lucy tries to make sense of relationships in lockdown and deepening political tensions across the country, Strout has written another great living book, as great a novel about the pandemic as one can hope for .

Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout is published by Viking (£14.99). To support the Guardian and The Observer buy a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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