Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Oh, William! - Elizabeth Strout


In the last few years, Elizabeth Strout quietly worked her way onto my short list of favorite authors, something I really didn’t see coming when I first picked up The Burgess Boys back in 2013. But I found that novel to be so stunning in its insights into the human condition that I’ve read each of Strout’s subsequent novels almost as soon as they are published. Thanks to the HBO series and, of course, to the fact that Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009, Strout is probably still best known for having created such a memorable a character as Olive. But as this third Lucy Barton novel proves, Olive now has some pretty stiff competition when it comes to most memorable Elizabeth Strout character.


Lucy Barton was married to William Gerhardt, her first husband for almost twenty years — for eleven of those years she was officially Lucy Gerhardt, but after William’s mother died Lucy had her surname legally changed back to Barton because being “Lucy Gerhardt” just never had felt right to her. Lucy and William have two grown daughters, and for reasons she can’t explain even to herself, Lucy and William have become quite friendly again since the death of Lucy’s second husband a year earlier. Oh, William! is William’s story as seen through the eyes of Lucy, who is a frank narrator of what she observes with her own eyes and how the changes in her ex-husband, who is now 71 years old, make her feel about him, herself, and who they were together. 


Much of William and Lucy’s story is told in flashback, but it is what happens in real time that makes Oh, William! such a moving story. Over the course of the novel, William learns several things about his family history that will leave him wondering if he ever really knew who his mother was or even whom he really is. He is so stunned by some of the revelations that he struggles even to consider them for long through his newly opened eyes. Fascinating as William’s reaction to all of this is, however, it is what Lucy learns about herself and her relationship to this new version of William that most readers are likely to remember longest. Suddenly, William, her former protector and social-mentor, needs and depends on her more than she needs him. So when she quietly says to herself “Oh, William!” it is only because she feels sorry for him in his present state, and not to express any real fondness for the father of her two daughters. Now, she remembers why she walked out on him all those years ago. 


Bottom Line: Oh, William! is a wonderful character study that admirably extends the Lucy Barton saga. Fans of the previous Lucy Barton books will not want to miss this because Elizabeth Strout has done it again. Highly recommended. 


Elizabeth Strout

14 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to read this author's books for years, but somehow I always end up putting them off. Too many other books on my TBR list. But her books do sound really good.

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    1. Strout's books always leave me wondering what is happening to the main characters once I close the book for the final time. She creates some truly memorable characters.

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  2. Strout is very talented "Oh, William" - I can't wait to read this one right before pub. date. I have enjoyed the Lucy Barton character. It sounds like this was a good story as well. I've had to purchase the Olive books after enjoying them so much and the miniseries was awesome as well IMO.

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    1. Totally agree with you on the Kitteridge books. Have you read The Burgess Boys? That one really sticks in my mind...such great characters and what a plot!

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  3. This sounds so good! I guess I'll have to see about the first books. :)

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    1. Jen, it would definitely be wise to read these in order so that you "know" the characters as they come into their old age in this one.

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  4. If I had to choose a favorite living author, it would be Elizabeth Strout. I loved Lucy Barton and reread it before Anything is Possible was released. Not sure I'll do that again, but will purchase a copy of Oh William! the day it is released. Great review, Sam. Thanks.

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    1. You'll love it, JoAnn. I'm so taken by the characters Strout has created that I hate to see them all aging to this degree at the same time. Can't wait to see what Strout has up her sleeve next.

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  5. I've loved her Lucy and Olive books and I had not heard that she had a new one featuring Lucy, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I'll jump right on it.

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    1. If I remember correctly, Dorothy, it is to be published in mid-October. May be, though, still time to snag a review copy. I read this one while we were on the road, and it was the perfect thing to have around late at night.

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  6. A few months ago, I bought two books by Strout at a book sale. I haven't read any of her books yet, but the two I got are My Name is Lucy Barton and Olive Kitteridge. I look forward to reading both of them.

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    1. How lucky for you to find two of her books at a book sale...I'm betting you'll enjoy them. I heard her speak a couple of times, and she is very much in person the writer she is in her books, very empathetic, etc.

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  7. I'm a Strout fan. I liked Lucy Barton and Olive Again most recently. I plan to get this one when it comes out. Lucky you to get an early copy!

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    1. I'm betting you'll love this one. It reveals a lot of interesting new aspects of Lucy's personality. William is such a pain that I can't imagine why a woman as strong as she is would tolerate him, but that's one of life's mysteries. It's the kind of writing that makes Elizabeth Strout so special, I think.

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