Updated: Oct 31, 2021
By Elizabeth Strout
Soulful Writing and a Poignant Story
Lucy Barton, a 63-year-old widow, recounts her complex twenty-year relationship with William Gerhardt, her 71-year-old first husband. From college to the birth of their two daughters to his affairs and the dissolution of their marriage. Lucy offers reflections of marriage, eternal bonds, family secrets, and how well we know, really know one another.
Lucy and William are still close, despite having been divorced for years, and both had remarried. They even still call each other by their nicknames, Button and Pillie. When things get tough, they know they can count on each other. When Estelle, Willian’s third wife, left him, the first call he made was to Lucy, and when David, Lucy’s second husband, passed away, William was there to help her with the paperwork.
Now Willian asks Lucy to accompany him to Maine. He has just learned that his mother, whom he called Catherine, has kept a secret from him. He wants to go to Maine to find out if it’s true, and he needs Lucy to go with him.
Elizabeth Strout writes in-depth about human experiences, feelings, and imperfections. OH WILLIAM! is a poignant story, and Strout’s writing is soulful and moving.
Her character development is so emotionally rich that she makes it possible for readers to feel what it’s like to be another person. The characters, Lucy and William, are the story. They propel the narrative, are well-drawn, and are richly flawed.
Strout’s writing is seamless and smartly structured. It seems as if we are sitting beside Lucy on the couch, in her simple New York City apartment, glancing out the window at her view of the Empire State Building, while she tells us about William. As happens with an informal conversation, Lucy sometimes digresses into side stories that all merge into William and Lucy’s background,
Phrases like “That is all I am able to say about that...” or “Let me mention just a few more things… or “let me just say one more thing about…” recognizes the reader’s role and brings us into the story.
Surprisingly, my favorite part of the book is when Lucy shares her feelings of being invisible. She expressed difficulties in even explaining what she means by saying that, except to say “I feel invisible in the world.” How many of us feel the same way? This feeling certainly resonated with me.
Strout, who grew up in Maine and New Hampshire, won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge in 2009. Her recent novels include Olive, Again (2019) and My Name is Lucy Barton (2016).
Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher Random House
Published October 19, 2021