|book review | March/April 2016
Connections in Stories
by Elizabeth Jacobs
My Name Is Lucy Barton
By Elizabeth Strout
Random House (2016)
Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Strout's latest novel explores the theme of connection on multiple levels. The connection binding a mother and daughter (in spite of years of estrangement) and the connection one feels to home (even after making the choice to leave that home behind) are both focused on. At age eighteen, Lucy Barton fled her small Midwestern hometown and an early life scarred by extreme poverty. She had not seen her home, nor any of her family, since. That is, until her mother materializes at her New York City hospital bedside during a prolonged illness.
Lucy's mother's return to her life sparks the self-reflection that comprises her first person narration in this beautifully written novel. The story alternates between Lucy's recollections of her youth and the longing she still feels for home, the adult life she's built in the years since, and the conversations she shares with her mother during her visit to the hospital. It is these moments between mother and daughter that really breathe life into the story.
Though they have little in common and have not spoken in years, Lucy still yearns for her mother's love, which she feels in spite of her mother's inability to express it. Strout's expertly crafted dialogue makes the characters feel all too real and familiar, leaving the reader to feel the weight both of the words spoken between them, and of those left unsaid.
If you have yet to give one of Elizabeth Strout's novels a try, this wonderful short novel is a great place to start. If you enjoy this title, also check out her other works: Amy & Isabel, Abide With Me, Olive Kitteridge (winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) and The Burgess Boys.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person
Simon & Schuster (2015)
Shonda Rhimes's "Year of Yes" began with the passing comment from her older sister, "You never say yes to anything." Rhimes, the creator and executive producer of the popular television series Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, had spent years burying herself in work, family, and food, indulging her tendency toward introversion and hiding from the spotlight brought on by her successful career. She chose to accept her sister's comment as a challenge, and vowed to say yes to every opportunity that came her way for an entire year.
This memoir documents Rhimes's year of saying yes to speaking engagements, television appearances, formal social occasions, and other things that were generally outside her comfort zone. She gives readers a front row seat to witness her transformation from someone who would rather hide out at home in sweats and eating ice cream, to a public figure learning to accept fame and the accolades of career success.
Rhimes's engaging, conversational approach makes this memoir an extremely enjoyable read. She makes the reader feel as though you're gossiping over coffee with an old friend. She is honest, self-aware, funny, and intelligent. Fans of Rhimes's television shows will see glimpses of the smart female characters she has created reflected in her more personal writing about her own life. Her story serves to motivate readers to get out and take a shot at things that are difficult and uncomfortable,
as well as to break out of long-held patterns of behavior that are easy, and sometimes even unhealthy. Her book provides the inspiration to seek and find happiness in connecting with the world and the people around us.
Bismarck native Elizabeth Jacobs is assistant director of the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library. Follow the library on Facebook at facebook.com/bismarcklibrary.