Book Club Guide—My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
This narrative leaves so many things unsaid that you might be anxious to talk it through with other readers so you can work together to fill in the gaps. Though you might come away with a mostly dark impression of the events of Lucy’s life, a group discussion will likely help you all pull back to a bigger perspective: that each of us has the ability to find joy in the midst of difficulty and pain. Here are some topics to guide your discussion.
As Lucy thinks back to the time of her illness, what are the signs that her marriage is in trouble? What do we know about her husband and how he views Lucy and her past? According to the novel, is it harder for two people from different kinds of backgrounds to forge a successful relationship?
Mothers and Children:
Why is Lucy so glad to have her mother by her bedside when she is ill, despite all the issues they have had in the past? What do their talks in the hospital seem to focus on? Do they resolve any of their problems with one another in their conversations? Why does Lucy’s mother leave abruptly when she might be about to undergo surgery? When Lucy goes to visit her mother on her deathbed years later, why does Lucy’s mother ask her to go away? Is it okay that Lucy’s mother cannot say “I love you” to her daughter? Do they love each other?
What does Sarah Payne teach Lucy about writing? Does writing help Lucy make sense of or peace with her past? If so, how? What is Lucy’s “one story”?
Lucy is constantly questioning her memory about events and experiences from her past, and wondering if things happened the way she describes them. Do you think Lucy accurately remembers her past? Why does she express such uncertainty about the events of her own life? Is Lucy’s experience with remembering like that of most people? Or are Lucy’s issues with memory unique to her troubled childhood? Lucy often wonders whether her mother remembers specific events. Do you think Lucy’s mother does remember, or are there things she chooses to ignore or forget?
Though she doesn’t have relationships with her family, Lucy finds friendship with some unlikely people, including her neighbor Jeremy and the writer Sarah Payne. What do these friendships provide for Lucy?