Funny how most of my reading life, if I really loved a book, I couldn't quite understand how not everyone loved it too. I mean, intellectually I understood that no one book works for every single reader. But still. Yet this year, I've come across two books I'm totally wild about, and yet I can see very clearly why others might not feel the same. First it was Fates and Furies, and now it's My Name Is Lucy Barton.
I loved, loved, loved this quiet little book. On the surface, not much happens; Lucy Barton, the narrator, reflects on something that happened to her many years earlier, when she had surgery and a complication kept her in the hospital for several weeks. The complication is not life-threatening, but she has trouble recovering. While she's there, her mother comes to stay with her. Now, this is significant, as she hasn't even spoken to her mother in years. During the course of her mother's visit, they talk about people Lucy knew growing up in a small town in Illinois. Gradually we learn more about Lucy's childhood, which was far from pleasant, but we rarely see explicit details, just get a sense of what it was like and how it's contributed to who Lucy is now.
Throughout, the older Lucy makes it clear she's reconstructing memories from a distance, and she frequently says things like, "I believe that's what happened" or "that's what I remember." She's remembering from such a distance that she's mostly very calm. She's also a writer, and she remembers going to a writing workshop where the instructor encouraged her to tell this story.
Lucy is also the mother of two girls, and part of the misery of her extended hospitalization is being away from them for so long. But that's not all she worries about: "The rage of my girls during those years! There are moments I try to forget, but I will never forget. I worry about what it is they will never forget."
And that's what this book is about--what we remember, what we forget, what haunts us even when we're not sure why, and how the things we remember and forget make up who we are and what we become.
Like I said, it's very quiet, and I can see how readers could find it dull. For me, it was an unsettling kind of quiet, with all kinds of hard questions being asked--and not being asked--and I was sad to see it end.