In her latest work, Elizabeth Strout achieves new levels of masterful storytelling. Damaged lives can be redeemed but, as she eloquently demonstrates in this powerful, sometimes shocking, often emotionally wrenching novel, the emotional scars can last forever. If some readers felt that Strout’s previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, was too subtle and oblique about Lucy’s hellish childhood, here Strout reveals specific details of the horrible circumstances in which Lucy and her siblings were raised, as recollected by some of the inhabitants of Amgash, Ill., and the surrounding communities. Using the novel-in-stories format of Olive Kitteridge, Strout again proves Tolstoy’s observation that each family is unhappy in its own way. Except for one episode in which Lucy herself comes back for a tortured sibling reunion, she is the absent but omnipresent thread that weaves among the dozen or so characters who are have suffered secret misery and are longing for love and understanding. Some are lucky: one of the five Mumford sisters reunites with her runaway mother in Italy; another, an angry young girl, is suddenly able to see the way to a brighter future. Others, including a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and a rich woman who is complicit in her husband’s depraved behavior survive despite the baggage of tortured memories. “They had grown up on shame; it was the nutrient of their soil,” one character acknowledges. Strout’s prose is pared down, yet rich with implication. It is left for the character in the final episode, Lucy’s cousin Abel, who despite a similarly deprived childhood is now a happy and successful business executive, husband, father, and grandfather, to observe, in what may be his final moments, that “Anything was possible for anyone.” (Apr.)
Elizabeth Strout. Random House, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8940-3
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