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- Date Published: Sept. 20, 2022
- Pages: 288
- Audio: 8 hours 19 minutes
- Publisher: Random House
Lucy by the Sea Review
Someday when your grandchildren ask you what it was like living during the COVID pandemic, just hand them this book.
I think Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout does such a great job of embodying what those years were like. Obviously, the exact particulars will be different from yours, but Strout captures so many of the emotions that we all felt. She even includes important events from 2020 like the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Atlantic very aptly calls it the “pandemic novel that’s frozen in time.”
(If COVID still feels a bit too close to you to enjoy this book just yet, I totally get it. For me, I felt ready to revisit those uncertain years through Lucy’s eyes and life. )
I picked up this book on a whim while visiting an independent bookstore in San Diego called The Book Catapult. While I had heard of author Elizabeth Strout and her books such as Olive Kitteridge, and her books always sounded like books I would enjoy, this was my first one. (And I can promise that it won’t be the last.)
Lucy by the Sea is a story about author Lucy Barton and how the COVID pandemic affected her life. The thing that impressed me is how authentic and honest Lucy is. The book almost feels like a diary about her life during that time.
It begins with Lucy living in New York City when the pandemic begins. She gets an urgent call from Lucy’s ex-husband William, who tells her that she needs to get out of New York and join him in a rented house in a small town off the coast of Maine that he’s secured for them. She follows his instructions and soon joins him.
In the early days of the pandemic, Lucy is still grieving over the death of her second husband David. And it is in this context that Lucy joins William. As the story unfolds, you learn more about Lucy and William’s marriage and how the fallout from their divorce is still impacting their adult children.
In the town where they settle, they form many sweet friendships that become an integral part of their lives. One friendship is with Bob Burgess, who is a character in the Strout’s novel The Burgess Boys. Even Olive Kitteridge makes a couple of appearances.
This books is about grief, survival, parenting adult children, how our past affects the present, friendships with people with values that are different than our own, maintaining sanity when in isolation, how a divorced couple learns to live with each other again, and more.
I have since learned that Lucy by the Sea is part of series, but that did not affect my ability to enjoy this book at all. If anything, it only makes me want to go back and read the previous books in the series. I found the small Maine town where most of the book takes place and the characters that live there to be so real and endearing. I definitely want to learn more about them.
One thing I have learned that I love in a book is a story that takes place in an idyllic small town. I think this book definitely falls in that category.
This book is the fourth book in the Amgash series (also known as the Lucy Barton series). Here are all of the Amgash books in order:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout comes a poignant, pitch-perfect novel about a divorced couple stuck together during lockdown—and the love, loss, despair, and hope that animate us even as the world seems to be falling apart.
“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.”
Book Club Discussion Questions
Feel free to select the questions that resonate most with your book club’s interests and priorities, and use them to guide your discussion:
- How was your COVID experience similar to Lucy’s? What did you relate to? In what ways was your COVID experience different?
- Lucy’s relationship with her family is a central theme in the novel. How does her childhood and family history shape her as a person and as a mother? In what ways does Lucy break from her family’s patterns, and in what ways does she perpetuate them?
- Lucy by the Sea explores the idea of memory and how it shapes our perception of the past. How reliable do you think Lucy’s memories are? Do you trust her as a narrator? Why or why not?
- Lucy’s relationship with William plays a significant role in the story. What do you make of their relationship? How does it evolve over the course of the novel, and what do you think it represents in Lucy’s life?
- One of the themes in the book is how parents relate to their adult children. What did you think about Lucy’s relationship with her adult daughters?
- The novel deals with the concept of loneliness and isolation. How does Lucy cope with loneliness, and do you think her strategies are effective? Can you relate to her experiences of isolation?
- Elizabeth Strout often uses small moments and everyday details to reveal deeper emotions and themes. Can you identify any specific passages or scenes where this technique is particularly effective?
- The setting of the novel is almost like a character itself. How does the small-town setting contribute to the story and the characters’ experiences? How does it contrast with Lucy’s life in New York City?
- Lucy is a writer and storyteller. Discuss the role of writing and storytelling in the novel. How do Lucy’s experiences as a writer shape her identity and her relationships with others?
- The novel touches on themes of class and social status. How do class differences manifest in the lives of the characters, and how do these differences affect their relationships and opportunities?
- Throughout the book, Lucy encounters various people who have had a significant impact on her life. Which secondary characters do you find the most compelling, and why?
- The title, Lucy by the Sea, suggests a connection to the ocean and the idea of vastness and possibility. How does this theme of the sea relate to Lucy’s journey and her search for meaning and connection? Do you think the title fits the book? If not, what do you think would make a better title?
- The novel raises questions about forgiveness and acceptance, particularly in the context of family relationships. Do you think Lucy is able to find forgiveness and peace in her relationships with her family members by the end of the book?
- How does the structure of the novel, with its interconnected stories and vignettes, contribute to the overall narrative and themes? Did you find this structure effective in conveying Lucy’s story?
- What do you think the future holds for Lucy? Where do you envision her life going after the events of the novel?
- Overall, what do you think Lucy by the Sea is trying to convey about the human experience, family, and the search for identity and connection?
- How did the book make you feel, and what questions or thoughts did it leave you with?
- Would you recommend this book to someone else? Why or why not?
This is the sea! It was like a foreign country to me. Except in truth, foreign places always frighten me. I like places that are familiar.