Thursday, October 13, 2022

Book Review: Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Pages: 304
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Random House
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Oh William!
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "With her trademark spare, crystalline prose--a voice infused with "intimate, fragile, desperate humanness" (The Washington Post)--Elizabeth Strout turns her exquisitely tuned eye to the inner workings of the human heart, following the indomitable heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton through the early days of the pandemic. As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it's just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea. Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we're apart--the pain of a beloved daughter's suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love."



Lucy Barton is living her quiet life in New York City until one day the COVID-19 pandemic occurs and Lucy is in denial about what is happening. William, her ex-husband, convinces her to leave the city and come with him to a house in Maine by the ocean as it's the perfect spot for lockdown. At first, Lucy thinks that it will be just a week or so and doesn't even want to bring her computer, but slowly she realizes that COVID is something that is going to hand on much longer.  Lucy goes through all of the feelings that we all felt: loneliness, hopelessness, worry, scared for the future, scared for her health, missing family, and more. All this time on her hands, gives her more time to reflect on her life: her relationship with her mother, her marriage to William and his affair, her daughters, health issues, William's sister, and just about anything else that crosses her mind.  While I find Lucy to be a fascinating character and Elizabeth Strout's writing to be superb, Lucy by the Sea  fell flat for me.   

Lucy is dealing with what we all dealt with not very long ago and actually are still dealing with--the COVID pandemic. I mean it's not entire over, so it felt a little unusual to read a story about its first days.  For some of us, that wasn't too long ago and it is a wound that hasn't' completely healed.  So, revisiting this topic was tough for me in Lucy by the Sea. What kept me reading was Lucy. I appreciate her point of view and could relate to her at times with her thoughts surrounding COVID and how it impacts just about every aspect of her life. I also appreciated her time with William so much more in Lucy by the Sea. While I was never a big fan of William in her other novels, he definitely warmed up in this one and I found myself enjoying him much more than in Oh William!

Strout also takes us back to the uncertainty surrounding the early days of the pandemic. As time goes by, she also highlights some of the upsetting events of the time, such as George Floyd's injustice, the vaccines (finally!), and the unsettling events of January 6th. While I appreciate her doing this, it just felt too soon for me. It felt like I was going back to a time I wasn't necessarily ready to visit. Shouldn't we at least wait ten years till authors start writing about it? Instead of it feeling fresh, it just felt like she was taking us through the events and Lucy was processing it all. Even the difficulties she faced with her daughters felt boring at times and mundane. I do think women that have adult children may be able to appreciate Lucy's perspective a bit more than me.  Which leads me to my next point.

I felt like Lucy was super privileged during her quarantine in Maine in Lucy by the Sea. It was difficult for her, but most of society, especially the younger generation, were still having to work via Zoom or go into work masked, and/or teach their kids from home, etc, and there was no escape to Maine for a lot of us. So, I was completely lacking sympathy for her on that end in that her main concern was her outdoor walk and watching the news. 

I will say that Strout is a phenomenal writer. I appreciate her style and her ability to only use a few words to really convey a scene. I like how she develops her characters and their relationships. However, Lucy by the Sea just felt so uninspired to me and ended up being difficult to read. COVID is still pretty fresh in my eyes; why revisit it just yet? Some of us are still unboxing our own trauma from it and can't take on Lucy's.  However, if you are a fan of Strout, and are ready to read books about the pandemic, you will find Lucy by the Sea to be a relatable tale.

So, are you a fan of Strout's novels? Have you read Lucy by the Sea? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Oof, I'm not sure I could read this one - I don't know that I necessarily need a character to recap everything I (we) have went through.

    1. I know, right?!?! I am just not ready. I stuck with it b/c Strout is an amazing writer, but overall, it was just depressing. Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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