The best part of being a book blogger is when publishers contact me directly with a free book to review. I was honored when one of the Senior Marketing Managers at Random House asked me earlier this year to read Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. As time got closer to the upcoming October 19, 2021 publication date, I started reading reviews from others who had also gotten advanced reader copies. Two of my Goodreads friends had marked the book as “Did Not Finish” since they didn’t realize it was the 3rd book of Elizabeth Strout’s Amgash series. I quickly realized I would need to read the first book My Name is Lucy Barton before I started Oh William! I am so glad I did since that background was important in understanding who Lucy is. I did not read Book #2 in the series, and I do not think that was necessary to enjoy Oh William! Both books are short and made for easy reads.
My Name Is Lucy Barton (Amgash #1)
My Name Is Lucy Barton is a story about one woman’s capacity to love her family in spite of her horrible upbringing. Her resilience and grace are amazing.
Lucy confides in the reader her painful childhood memories that are brought to light when Lucy’s mother visits her during a lengthy hospital stay. Lucy was brought up in abject poverty with two uncaring parents. Lucy’s mother still won’t tell Lucy that she loves her, even as Lucy is sick in the hospital. The mother will only make small talk about people from the hometown of Amgash, Illinois. She doesn’t care to hear anything about Lucy’s two daughters or Lucy’s writing career. Yet, Lucy unconditionally loves this woman and misses her when she leaves. Lucy’s older sister resents her and demands Lucy send her money. Her father suffered from PTSD and was abusive. Her brother is very odd, but Lucy still tries to speak to him weekly.
The story is told with such simplicity that it is almost easy to miss the message of familial love.
4-Stars. I listened to the audiobook which is 4 hours and 11 minutes long. There is a much shorter dramatic version done by actress Laura Linney from her Broadway show based on this novel.
Oh William! (Amgash #3)
William Gerhardt was Lucy Barton’s first husband. His father died when William was only 14 years old. His mother, Catherine, was a very present person in Lucy and William’s marriage. When she died, Lucy changed her last name back to Barton. Within a few years, she left William because of his numerous affairs. They have remained friends over the years.
The story starts when William is 71 years old. He is married to his much younger third wife, with whom he has a ten-year-old daughter. Lucy’s second husband, who was her soulmate, has recently died. William goes through two crises. One involving his wife and the second regarding startling news he learns about his late mother. He calls upon Lucy to help him deal with both of the situations.
Listening to Lucy Barton talk is like listening to a very chatty old friend who loves to tell stories. She is very introspective and digs deep into her thoughts. Sometimes, it is like she has ADHD because she will randomly go off on a strange tangent. She often repeats herself. But Lucy always manages to get back to the point. I think the point of Oh William! is to first examine marital relationships. What do we bring in to them, what do we add to them, and are they worth maintaining? The second point is to ask the question, do we ever really know someone, including our own selves, more than just a tiny bit?
3.5-stars rounded up to 4.