My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton

Title: My Name is Lucy Barton

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Genre: Fiction

Edition: Paperback

Award: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016

Goodreads Blurb: “Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lies the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters.”


I had this novel first suggested to me by a worker at Waterstones and from then on, I always looked at the display as I walked by.  I am lucky enough to have an amazing boyfriend who knows and supports my love for books so receiving this from him was a lovely surprise.

This novel was one of the few in which I read almost all of in it one day and didn’t want to stop. It is written in such a raw and personal way that you feel as if you are sitting in a coffee shop with Lucy as she tells you her life story. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this story was that with it being about how the past affected her future, you aren’t constantly confused about being sent to flashbacks but rather shown the memories as they hit her. You get to see what happened, how she felt at that time and then how she feels in the current day. It is a beautiful and effective way to write such a story.

“I have learned this: A person gets tired. The mind or the soul or whatever word we have for whatever is not just the body gets tired, and this, I have decided, is – usually, mostly – nature helping us. I was getting tired. I think – but I don’t know – that he was getting tired too.”

The best part for me about the main character was that her expressions of loneliness and feeling broken were not annoying. Too often, vulnerable, middle-aged female’s are written in a sob story way that makes them sound desperate for attention and like a mess that you would see in a dramatic, romance film. I found it almost comforting to read such a personable character – one who tells it as it is and pulls off the effect as if you are in her mind. You feel the pain, anger and love that she has for the people in her life. You see the impact of her childhood and marriage – the shock and heartbreak when her mother visits. The feelings are all real and Lucy Barton is like a real female woman in the real world.

(BIT OF A SPOILER) With that being said, I found it annoying how she says that she falls in love with almost every man that comes into her life. At the beginning of the book, it made sense with her discussing the relationship before her husband and the ways that it still affects her. However, it then gets to the point where she thinks she is in love with her gay neighbor and then her married doctor. She is a women, stuck in a hospital, with her mom visiting who she hasn’t seen in years, missing her children who aren’t being well taken care of by their father, and is worried about life afterwards. Does it make sense and add drama to the plot? Yes. Does it get repetitive and annoying to constantly read that she loves a guy whenever she introduces him into her life story? Yes.

“Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they might claim otherwise. But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart; This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”

 Now for her mom – the main conflict of the novel. What a character she is! I was constantly going back and forth between hating and having sympathy for her. She is made out to be this complex mystery that Lucy never fully knew nor ever will. The tension and awkwardness felt through their talks and the way the mother sits in the room is beautifully heartbreaking. The whole time I thought, “I am so thankful that my mom and I aren’t like this.” Their relationship effected everything in the main character’s life from her relationship with her siblings and father to having children of her own. I just wanted to scream at the mom to be normal and take care of her child for once. And I admit, quite often there was the sense that the mother did want to do this but felt as though she couldn’t – good job Elizabeth Strout for purporsefully causing that frustration. With that being said, the last part with the mom really pissed me off but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Overall, it was a beautiful novel. I really enjoyed it and am so glad that I read it. It is written beautifully, easy to get through while traveling and is one of those stories that I wish more were like. It was refreshing to read and I am now curious about Strout’s other books.

Would I suggest this book to a friend?: Yes

Do I suggest reading this novel if you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love?: Yes

Goodreads Rating: 4/5

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The Sellout, Paul Beatty

The Sellout

Title: The Sellout

Author: Paul Beatty

Genre: Fiction

Edition: Paperback

Award: The Man Booker Prize 2016

Goodreads Blurb: “Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant. Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.”


WARNING: SPOILERS (TO A DEGREE)

First off, do not read this book if you hate slavery/the idea of slavery being used. I don’t mean reading about the past but it being active in the present. The majority of this book revolves around that and is basically the whole conflict. I am not saying that I do enjoy that but that I could see people being sensitive to the topics included in the book. So don’t complain if you choose to read the book and don’t like it for that reason. You’re welcome.

Having read the blurb multiple times before purchasing this book, I admit that I expected a different plot. A brief summary is that the narrator is sent to trial for using slavery and racial segregation in the present time. The main explanation for the psychological damage that he has is because of his dead father who was a sociologist. As in a sociologist who ran tests on his child – yes, like many horror movies/Law and Order episodes. It was an interesting idea but didn’t really explain it all. I think that if the narrator had more controlling characteristics or better expressed his damaged childhood to some of the other characters, there would have been more drama that kept the book interesting throughout.

“Sometimes I wish Darth Vader had been my father. I’d have been better off. I wouldn’t have a right hand, but I definitely wouldn’t have the burden of being black and constantly having to decide when and if I gave a shit about it. Plus, I’m left-hand.”

Now for the good, bad and could have been improved things about the book.

Good:

  1. Little Rascals. The narrator’s friend/slave, Hominy Jenkins, was one of the boys in Little Rascals. The character himself caused a lot of unnecessary confusion for me and at times caused the story to drag. However, the characteristic of being a Little Rascal added a quirkiness which lead to humor towards the end of the book. Do I wish that Paul Beatty hadn’t made that choice? No. Do I think that he could have made the character a stronger individual with being a Little Rascal just a small thing on the side? Yes.
  2. Length. Overall, I don’t think that the book should have been shorter nor longer. Yes, some parts could have been elaborated but the timeframe chosen allowed each character, event, and conflict to have a decent amount of coverage. I do admit though that with the book being split into five parts, I did get tired in the middle. At times it seemed as if he was just adding rambles to the story, meanwhile I was eagerly waiting for the trial. I do admit though that I appreciated how much Beatty went into depth when describing certain events and childhood memories. But at the same time, I felt let down when the big event, the trial, wasn’t fully discussed and left the story feeling unresolved.

Bad:

  1. Location and time. The location and time is California in the present day. However, I feel like this choice of timing causes a lot of confusion and weakens the story. There is constant conflict between the narrator, his slave, the woman that he sees (don’t want to spoil too much) and his town mainly for this reason. Below are a few examples:
  •  The narrator smokes weed while in the court room and shares it with his lawyer. Really? As if that would happen in the present time!
  • The narrator sells weed to the people in his town, who don’t know what it is, and uses different names for it. Seriously? A town in California? Not knowing what weed is?
  • The town agrees to follow his idea with segregating the town. Yes this would be understandable if it was a town full of racist people but in present day, wouldn’t there be at least one person fighting against it?
  • The first step for the segregation is the local bus. Bit controversial (Rosa Parks).

Could have been worked on:

  1. Not enough written about the trial. I started this book believing that the trial would be a big part of it. However, it was mainly only the prologue and wasn’t strongly resolved at the end of the book. The book didn’t end on a cliffhanger but it just had a “Really? That’s it?” type of ending. I wish that Beatty had explained more about how it all ended and how the town was truly effected.
  2. Weak use of flashbacks. A large part of this book focuses on the narrators past relationships and the reasoning for the main characters being the way that they are. At times it was used strongly and added more emotion to the story, especially the parts about the father. But with that being said, I think that Beatty could have used it more for certain events and characters, such as the father’s death and Hominy’s “passion” for slavery and segregation.

Overall, it was a good book and I don’t regret reading nor purchasing it. If this review appealed to you then definitely read the book. However, if it doesn’t – save your money and buy a different one.

Would I suggest this book to a friend?: Yes

Would I read another book by Paul Beatty?: Yes

Goodreads Rating: 3/5