Elizabeth Strout's new novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, returns to the mother-daughter turf of her debut, Amy and Isabelle, published a decade and a half ago.
Is it a stunning exploration of a tormented mother-daughter relationship? Well, yes it is.
Is the quality of the writing amazing? Well, yes. Simple and straightforward and incredibly moving, as we've come to expect from Strout.
Should you step away from the computer and rush out to your favorite independent bookstore to get a copy? I'm sorry to tell you it doesn't come out until next week.
After reading a pre-publication copy of Lucy Barton, I did some poking around, and discovered that Strout was in her 40s when she published that first novel--the kind of story I love. She collected a law degree on the way to becoming a writer, which, having one myself, warmed me to her even more (although admittedly a bit sad that she lacked the good sense to go to University of Michigan Law).
She started submitting stories at age 16, and published her first story ten years later, in 1982. I'm just going to pause here, and let that sink in: a Pulitzer Prize winner submitting stories for ten years before one was accepted for publication.
Her first novel was published in 2000 which, if you do the math, is 18 years after the publication of her first story, and 28 after she'd begun to submit her work--never mind when she'd begun to write.
And she says in an HBO interview of her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge that she wrote one of the stories included in the collection 15 or 16 years before the book came out.
"Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing," her website notes. A few hours every day.
If you're a writer leaning too heavily on the excuse of no time to do it, you may be excused now to go find your few hours today. If you're a writer who gave up on submitting after a few rejections, or even a whole lot of rejections, you too may be excused. Happy New Year!
Is My Name is Lucy Barton my favorite Elizabeth Strout novel ever? Well, I'm not sure. I'm rereading Amy and Isabelle, and I'll let you know the answer after I've finished. (For those of you who are shouting, "Olive Kitteridge!", I'll confess I often find the first book I read by an author edges out others, because after I've read one that I love, I know what to expect.)
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, Strout is reading at Kepler's Books and Magazines on the 19th, as part of a seven-city tour. Do I already have my ticket? Yes. In fact, I have two.