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The profound mother-daughter bond is explored through a mother's hospital visit to her estranged daughter by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys.
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
1. Lucy’s husband asked her mother to visit her in the hospital, and paid for her trip. Do you think that was a gesture of love on his part?
2. What role does the gossip Lucy and her mother share play in the book?
3. Do you think Lucy blames her mother for the more painful parts of her childhood? Could her mother have done better?
4. WWII and the Nazis are themes that profoundly affect Lucy’s father (and hence her whole family), Lucy’s marriage to her first husband, and even her dreams. Discuss.
5. Lucy expresses great love for her doctor. How would you describe that love?
6. Lucy’s friend Jeremy told her she needed to be “ruthless as a writer.” Did she take his advice? How?
7. Why did Lucy keep returning again and again to see the marble statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
8. How has the poverty of Lucy’s childhood shaped her life and her work?
9. What does living in New York City mean for Lucy? Do you think she feels at home in New York?
10. What did Sarah Payne mean, when she said to Lucy: “We only have one story”?
Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days. She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction. During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.
During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on. She read biographies of writers, and was already studying – on her own – the way American writers, in particular, told their stories. Poetry was something she read and memorized; by the age of sixteen was sending out stories to magazines. Her first story was published when she was twenty-six.
Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977. Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology. She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College. By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen. 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.