I’m not alone in being hugely excited by news that we can expect yet another Lucy Barton book. Coming late to My Name is Lucy Barton, I remember being immediately drawn into a world so realistic it read like a memoir. And on the day that I reached the final page, I was handed a proof of Anything Is Possible. The pure joy that I could so quickly pick up where I left off with these characters is something I still recall with relish.
By the time the first Lucy book appeared in 2016, Elizabeth Strout had already written several bestsellers, including the Pulitzer-prizewinning Olive Kitteridge. Even the most mundane details of her characters’ lives are shot through with meaning, bringing an extraordinary honesty to her stories. The novels, really interlinked short stories, tend to highlight the deep bonds of family as her characters cope with love and loneliness, ageing and loss, facing all with courage and fortitude.
In My Name is Lucy Barton, the first story begins with Lucy lying seriously ill in a hospital bed. Her mother comes to see her; the first time the two have met in many years. The complex nature of their unhappy relationship is described in spare, clean sentences that cut straight to the core. Their meeting causes Lucy to confront her past, the buried memories of her desperately impoverished childhood. It also fosters uncertainty about her marriage and her attempt to become a writer.
Anything Is Possible, the sibling novel, was published a year later, another collection of interconnecting stories, intimate portraits of people trying hard to understand the world around them. Lucy Barton returns to rural Amgash, the Illinois backwater of her birth, to visit her family after seventeen years in an effort to come to terms with her unhappy past. Again, Elizabeth Strout casts a spotlight on the most unassuming characters with an unflinching hand.
The third Lucy novel, Oh William, arrived in 2021. In this, Lucy is 63 years old and an established writer. When she re-connects with her first husband, William, she recounts the years of their marriage, the births of their two daughters, their divorce. Now William asks her to journey with him to uncover a family secret that he cannot face alone. This novel is a subtle and deep exploration of their long-established relationship, their love and their losses.