Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Short and Strout: My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (no spoilers)

cover image of My Name Is Lucy BartonMy Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is a very short novel – just over 200 pages – but I’ve spent a disproportionately long time thinking about it before reviewing it!

When I first finished reading My Name Is Lucy Barton, I thought, “Is that it?” – disappointed at the spareness of the writing and the inconclusiveness of the story, especially after the author’s last book, The Burgess Boys, which takes on family dysfunction in a more traditional style.

After rereading the passages I highlighted in the book, though, and considering the book as a whole, I see how it coalesces around the idea that a novelist has only one story that he/she writes in different ways. So, depending on how you look at it, My Name Is Lucy Barton is either a brilliantly written work of literary fiction – a realistic, slow-burning glimpse into a writer’s psyche – or a segmented collection of journal-type entries with no satisfying narrative arc.

My Name Is Lucy Barton has more in common with Olive Kitteridge – a collection of linked stories – than with The Burgess Boys. Written in the style of a memoir of a successful novelist looking back on a lengthy hospital stay as a young mother during which her own emotionally and geographically distant mother came to stay with her, while her two daughters and husband visited only rarely and she worried that she would die and leave her children motherless.

It’s not even really written in the style of a memoir. More of a writer’s notebook, or a collection of memories or partially remembered stories, carefully written down and recorded as a way of sorting out or coming to terms with the past. The writer (Lucy Barton) seems to be trying to remind herself that there were times when she was happy, and there were people who cared for her and about her, despite the overall air of melancholy that pervades her stories and memories.

My Name Is Lucy Barton is best for literary fiction readers who like the idea of delving into a writer’s memories – it’s a very interior, psychological story – and don’t care about there being no plot and a hard-to-discern story line.

If you liked The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, you would probably like My Name Is Lucy Barton. This novella reminded me of that one in the way the narrators of both are looking back as older adults and trying to parse events in the past to see repercussions, find a theme, or sort out the truth of the matter.

My Name Is Lucy Barton
Strout, Elizabeth
Random House
Jan. 12, 2016
208 pp./$26 US

Disclosure: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Other opinions on My Name Is Lucy Barton:

AudioFile (audiobook review)
Books, The Universe, and Everything
Lakeside Musing
Necromancy Never Pays

Sarah’s Bookshelves


Please Ignore the Cover: Deutschland by Martin Wagner @CarnelianValley

cover imageThe cover image of Deutschland by Martin Wagner may misleadingly make you think of a Cujo-like horror novel, but although a scary dog on a chain does appear about a third of the way in, Deutschland is a work of literary fiction with the theme of moral/ethical choices. What determines whether one is a good person? Do thoughts count or only actions? Can good people do bad things? What if someone does a bad thing to prevent someone else from doing something worse? Are ethics something that arise naturally, or a human construct like the chain on a starving attack dog?

The novel is short– about 150 pages – set in England, over the summer holidays. Grandchildren Samantha, Tony, and Jeff are staying with the grandparents in their large, seaside home, near a wood the three children aren’t supposed to explore as much as they do. The story focuses on one main character from each of the generations – Robert, the American expatriate step-grandfather; Kate – his wife Suzannah’s adult daughter;  and Sam, Kate’s niece, around 10 or 12 years old. Sam is anxious to keep her youngest brother Jeff safe from Tony’s dangerous dares and challenges. Kate – the unsettled wanderer – is about to embark on a trip to Munich with a new boyfriend, and is dreading telling her mother she’s going to Germany. And Robert, as Suzannah’s second husband, still feeling somewhat the interloper in the family, has a miserable secret from his own past that he may be forced to reveal.

Author Martin Wagner is a film-maker and playwright; Deutschland is his first published novel. Deutschland would make a good movie; each segment of the story could easily become a scene. Readers are given some insight into what Robert, Kate, and Samantha are thinking, but for the most part, as readers, we are listening to their conversations and watching the characters interact in the present, getting only an occasional backstory.

Deutschland is thought-provoking reading that leaves many questions unanswered or ambiguously answered. It reminded me a bit of The Red House by Mark Haddon (with its tangle of English family members misunderstanding each other) but Deutschland is much more straightforwardly written (no stream of consciousness).

Wagner, Martin
Pinter & Martin, 2013
151 pp.

DIsclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author for review. Thank you to Charlie of The Worm Hole for recommending it to me!

Other opinions:
The Worm Hole

Tales of Darkness and Dread: High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates (Audio) @audiobkjkbx @HighBridgeAudio

audiobook on CD coverSome tread cautiously, fearfully; some walk right in; but all of the characters in the stories by Joyce Carol Oates collected in High Crime Area explore the dark side of themselves and their relationships. Taken together, this collection of disturbing stories leaves readers with the feeling of unease or dread and only human nature to blame it on — no monsters or paranormal phenomena.

Read by an a variety of actors and well-known audiobook narrators and subtitled “Tales of Darkness and Dread,” the audio edition of High Crime Area was one I listened to for RIP IX but didn’t get reviewed in time for Halloween as intended.

The stories in High Crime Area focus on people in dangerous, or potentially dangerous, situations. In some the danger is present and immediate, but in most, it’s there in the sense of foreboding and dread, or growing panic, felt by the characters and the reader. In all of the stories, the characters have gotten themselves into the dangerous situations, but in completely believable ways. Their thoughts and emotions, as described by the author, make their actions understandable, though often regrettable.

Narrators Julia Whelan, Ray Chase, Donna Postel, Luci Christian, Tamara Marston, and Chris Patton are all excellent. Chris Patton is a new favorite narrator of mine. Julia Whelan has apparently narrated over a hundred audiobooks, but I think she may have been new to me here. I’ve heard Ray Chase read before, but I’m not sure where. He’s the narrator you hear in the audio excerpt here.

Without any overacting or dramatization, each narrator brings out the gradual, subtle horror of each of these stories. Recommended for readers of psychological suspense or literary fiction tinged with horror.

The stories in High Crime Area:

  • “The Home at Craigmillnar” read by Ray Chase
  • “High” read by Donna Postel
  • “Toad-Baby” read by Luci Christian
  • “Demon” read by Chris Patton
  • “Lorelei” read by Tamara Marston
  • “The Rescuer” read by Julia Whelan
  • “The Last Man of Letters” ready by Ray Chase
  • “High Crime Area” read by Julia Whelan

High Crime Area
Oates, Joyce Carol
HighBridge Audio, 2014
7 hours
$29.95 $20.97

Disclosure: I received a copy of this title on CD for the purposes of review through Audiobook Jukebox.

Other opinions on this audiobook:
Audiobook Jukebox