Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
In Lucy by the Sea, Lucy is coaxed into a life of isolation in coastal Maine by her ex-husband, William, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020.
Genre/Categories/Setting: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, Maine, Pandemic
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My Summary of Lucy by the Sea:
Thanks #NetGalley @RandomHouse @PenguinRandom for a complimentary e ARC of #LucyByTheSea upon my request. All opinions are my own.
The fourth in the Lucy Barton series finds Lucy coaxed into a life of isolation in coastal Maine by her ex-husband, William, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020. As Lucy and William face long, quiet days in forced proximity, they rekindle their friendship and put a voice to their fears, anxieties, and shortcomings.
I hadn’t planned on reading books in the Lucy Barton series because Strout’s style of story telling which is heavily character-driven and melancholy with almost no plot is not my favorite. However, as I continued to see good reviews roll in for Lucy by the Sea, FOMO gripped me and I decided to take a chance. Most of the reviews, though, stressed the importance of reading Oh William! first to better appreciate Lucy by the Sea. I did read Oh William! and even though Strout is a brilliant writer, it was as sad and depressing as I expected. In addition, I didn’t appreciate the (religious) profanity. It earned 3 Stars from me and I haven’t reviewed it. I will say that the background provided in Oh William! did enhance my reading experience of Lucy by the Sea.
Elizabeth Strout is a master of characterization, and I admit that I grew to like Lucy. She’s more resilient and stronger than she knows. I can especially relate to her worries about her adult children. In my opinion, William is unlikable and unreliable even though he shows some sweetness towards Lucy and has mellowed in his older age. That being said, I think Strout’s subtlety in constructing their complex relationship, the multilayered depth of characterization, and the obvious love she has for her characters is all admirable.
Even though Lucy by the Sea is still a melancholy story, I did make connections with some of the content. Although recounting the early days of the pandemic is a bit boring, it was relatable and I can remember feeling and thinking some similar thoughts. One interesting thought that Lucy has is that she has always felt isolated and on the outside looking in. The isolation of the pandemic wasn’t a new feeling for her. I remember thinking that the lockdowns weren’t that bad for me either. I was retired and didn’t have the stress of working from home or losing my job. I’d happily stay home and read every day, all day! When I grew stir crazy, I just took a drive, ordered something from a drive through (wearing a mask and wiping everything down!), and sat in the parking lot reading for an hour. Aside from not getting together for family parties and other celebrations, I didn’t feel that deprived.
I also appreciated that there was less (religious) profanity in Lucy by the Sea than in Oh William. This significantly bettered my reading experience.
In addition to the pandemic, Strout touches on various events that turned political in the last couple of years. It’s not overly opinionated, but she does mention certain events.
Strout included a tiny bit of plot in this story. William convinces Lucy they need to leave NYC in the early weeks of the pandemic. Lucy has parental anxiety and control issues. This causes some angst between Lucy and her daughters. Lucy and William are learning how to be better friends with each other (forced proximity trope)….could it rekindle their relationship? In addition to outward action, Lucy spends a great deal of time reflecting and experiences some internal growth by story’s end.
(May contain spoilers) One element in stories I’m not particularly fond of is open-ended conclusions. I don’t need the story tied up in a bow, but I need a satisfactory conclusion that doesn’t leave me guessing. All I want to say about this is that I don’t think I trust William as much as Lucy does. (no spoilers!). Maybe she’s planning another installment in the Lucy Barton series.
Thought-provoking themes include love, loss, depression, hope, isolation, regret, anxiety, trust, friendship, poverty, childhood memories, friendship, aging, and enduring love.
Recommending Lucy by the Sea
I’m definitely recommending Lucy by the Sea for fans of Elizabeth Strout and the Lucy Barton series. Some readers might not want to read this much about the pandemic (especially if you have lost a loved one or friend). I can certainly recommend Lucy by the Sea for fans of well-written and reflective (melancholy) literary fiction. Strout makes ordinary characters memorable and the minutia of daily life somewhat interesting.
Content Consideration: pandemic, death as a result of Covid-19, infertility, loss of a pregnancy, infidelity, language
Related: Lucy by the Sea is heavily character-driven fiction. You might enjoy my discussion of plot-driven versus character-driven in this post.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author of Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth Strout
Is Lucy by the Sea on your TBR or have you read it?
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