Even though I got a flu shot back in November, I still somehow came down with a nasty virus of some sort–muscles that ache as if I just ran back-to-back ultra marathons, and a head alternately pounding and spinning–so I spent most of the day recovering (the first time in years that I have actually gone back to bed half an hour after getting up). And so I brought My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout with me into bed and got to the end-it’s not a long book. The novel tells the story of a writer who has to spend nine weeks in the hospital recovering slowly after she develops complications from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, who she hasn’t seen in years, comes to be with her in her hospital room in New York (with a view of the Chrysler Building from a window–thus the cover picture), and at first they reconnect through small-town gossip, but then they never resolve any of the tensions and unhappiness of their own family life, and her mother leaves just at the point where she becomes even more needy for her love. This is a book that made me, sick in bed, wish I could have my own mother with me, though she died ten years ago. It is a painful story that shows how sadness is passed through generations, and how we leave our mothers just as they leave us, right at the moment we need them the most.
Strout’s writing is exquisite. Here is an example: “Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they may 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.”