CBR14: Scandal square
(I may be overreaching because this book is not about a singular scandal but it’s full of scandalous behavior: spouse & child abandonment, serial infidelity, and Nazis. Many skeletons in fancy walk-in closets.)
This book is Strout’s third novel in the “Amgash Series” about a character named Lucy Barton. A fourth in the series is expected to be published this year. I did not read the proceeding two novels because I didn’t know this was part of a series. In any event, in terms of plot, I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to have read the other books. Strout gives a fair amount of time to Lucy for airing out the past. I got the drift.
Lucy, who has recently lost her second husband, still has a fairly close relationship with her ex-husband, William, with whom she has two grown daughters. When William’s current wife leaves him and he makes a shocking discovery (scandal!) regarding his mother via a gifted genetic testing service, he asks Lucy for help. The two embark on an uncomfortable trip to Maine where they rehash past transgressions, grudges, and the highs and lows of their fraught relationship. There is also a lot of reflection on their parenting as well as their complicated relationships with their parents. In between the sparse dialogue, Lucy narrates in an oddly curated voice that often contradicts itself as if she is very concerned that she comes across as a good person. She regularly insults and praises people in the same sentence and strikes me as a blissfully self-unaware person who thinks she is refreshingly self-aware. Basically, she is extremely tiresome.
My issue is that I can’t tell if that’s the point of the book. Maybe the other books would help me to decide that? For me, it reads as if we are supposed to feel some kind of connection or compassion for Lucy. I do not. Let me put it in the same patronizing way Lucy does when she tries to appear sympathetic to the other characters: “Oh, Lucy!”
I added this book to my TBR when Ann Patchett wrote a glowing endorsement for it on GoodReads. I love Ann Patchett. She is one of a few writers that can pull off poignant stories about privileged white upper-middle-class lives without boring me to death with naval-gazing narcissists (see The Dutch House or Commonwealth). Or, at least she manages somehow to make me think that they aren’t naval-gazing narcissists. But Ann Patchett did not write this book, Elizabeth Strout did. She does not work the same magic for me.