Strout's latest is a follow-on to her novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, and features a group of people tied together by poverty, awful childhoods, and abuse. (Don't worry, it's not as horrifying as it sounds.) Each chapter is its own story--the book is really a series of interconnected short stories--and told from a the perspective of a different character. Lucy comes from a background of poverty and abuse, but she's now a famous author who hasn't returned to her small town in many years. The idea is that each character in every new chapter is tied to Lucy Barton, or her connections, in some way. It's really as simple as that. There is no true story, per se, but glimpses into these associated people and their worlds.
There are certainly a lot of people and connections to keep track of; it takes a little bit to keep them all straight. As mentioned, the one anchoring thread is Lucy Barton--whom many of the characters don't truly even really know well. We get to see her through the prism of a variety of eyes. The linkages are intriguing, and I found it fascinating how all these various people were tied to Lucy and exactly what role she played in their lives.
This is not a particularly uplifting book, though there are lovely touching moments. It is instead a nuanced look at family relationships and what ties and binds people together. Strout has an amazing way of portraying her characters, so you can truly visualize them, and often you find yourself wishing you could learn more about each character, versus moving on to another in the following chapter. Her strength comes in the little details she shares, the small moments she tells about their lives, and how these little moments combine to depict the big picture.
I particularly enjoy how Strout can so carefully show the small injuries of life, as well as the deep effects of secrets on families. There is just something oddly mesmerizing about Strout's books. Honestly, subject matter that might sometimes typically bore you is fascinating in her deft hands. There were a few parts of chapters that dragged a bit, but overall, I just found myself intrigued and engaged by this novel. I was captivated by its characters, the central theme of Lucy Barton, and the various messages it carried. If you read My Name Is Lucy Barton and liked it, you'll probably enjoy this one, too. If you're looking for a book telling a linear story, with a set resolution, you may not appreciate this one as much. However, I recommend this novel for Strout's beautiful writing and thoughtful characters. More at http://justacatandabookatherside.blogspot.com