"Lucy by the Sea" by Elizabeth Strout

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Very near the end of Lucy by the Sea, Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s unforgettable character, implores her older daughter not to have an extramarital affair. Her two cents is a sophisticated and highly effective analysis of her daughter’s—Crissy’s—psychological state. The fact that Lucy can be so insightful and so persuasive after all the self-doubt and mortification she feels, surprises us. Flabbergasts us. She has spent very nearly the whole story recounting her disappointment, her dread of the judgment of others, that we wonder at and cheer her powerful skills.

And this book-length clear-as-crystal look at Lucy’s mental processes, her internal dialogue, leads us to expect yet another moment of doubt and indecision. And the fact that Strout gives Lucy a wand to wave for her loved ones, given the hopelessness and shame of her early life, flattens us. The ringing reverberation pealing from this novel certifies again the author’s dexterity. She’s a magician; I’ve felt this way since Olive Kitteridge. Lucy by the Sea is, I’m thrilled to say, more of the same miraculous magic.

When last we visited with Lucy and her ex-husband William, they took a trip from New York to Maine. The principal framework for the novel Oh William! was that William found out, rather late in life, that he has a half-sister in a little town there. In this new entry, William insists Lucy accompany him back to Maine, to escape the Covid virus as it rampages through New York. People stand off from one another, distance and masks hold sway over all interactions, and the effect on human behavior can be hard to predict. We observe all this through Lucy’s eyes, through the lens of her background, which inclines her late in life to compassion and understanding.

And this compassion and understanding mark Strout’s treatment too of the soul searching in which all chief characters engage. Her touch never errs, her wisdom never flags. Lucy’s absence from New York forces her to feel her grief over her husband David’s death. William reflects on a life that he regrets, but he settles on a solution and reaffirms his decision to pursue it. Lucy’s two grown daughters make life-altering decisions too.

We can only be thankful that Lucy and the rest of these characters keep up their residence in the author’s vivid imagination. Take and enjoy.




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