Oh William! | Elizabeth Strout #USAfiction

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.

Laura Linney played Lucy Barton in a one woman show, first in London, then on Broadway. A comment during rehearsal one day about William (Lucy’s first husband), made Elizabeth Strout realise that William had his own story. I’d love to know what that comment was. In all the press releases and interviews this is as much information as Strout provides each time. Whatever was said, the result was Oh William!

Strout picks up this third story, in her Lucy Barton trilogy, in William and Lucy’s twilight years. William is onto marriage number three and Lucy’s beloved second husband, David has recently died. Their children, Chrissy and Becka have given William an ancestry package for his birthday. What he discovers about his mother’s life before she married his father, deeply upsets and confuses him. He asks Lucy for help.

The help required turns out to be a road trip back to his mother’s home town. During this time together, Lucy and William reminisce about shared family memories, but by the end of the road trip, deeper home truths come out.

He was blaming me for something that had nothing to do with our present lives.

Over the course of the first two books, My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, we gained insight into Lucy’s loveless, poverty-stricken childhood. Throughout Oh William! the insight gained is into William’s past. His childhood was far more loving and abundant than Lucy’s (or his mother’s), yet he closes down emotionally, blocking any attempts to comfort him or to connect. By the end of Oh William! Lucy is still in the same spot as before, acknowledging we can never really know what is going inside of someone else, let alone ourselves. Personal awareness and growth is hard work, in fiction and in real life.

Thankfully Lucy makes some progress throughout the three books. Her relationship with her daughters has improved vastly as they learn to communicate better. She also drops the idealistic views of her mother that she carried for many years, creating a ‘nice mother‘ in her mind instead that she talks to when she needs comfort. On a visit to Amgash to see her siblings, she finally observes, ‘these lives are not the lives of people who come fully from love from the moment they are born‘.

And it wouldn’t be an Elizabeth Strout book without a cameo appearance by Bob Burgess, or at least his ex-wife Pam.

I’m glad I read the trilogy through for that sense of completion, but there is a slightness to these three stories that almost threatens to underwhelm. Strout spends a lot of time teasing out the truth in a very agreeable manner, but I simply did not respond to Lucy in the way I responded to Olive Kitteridge. Olive’s brusqueness makes her stories far more colourful and the reading experience more intense; she’s someone you love to hate. Lucy, is just oh Lucy!

Title: Oh William!
Author: Elizabeth Strout
ISBN: 9780241508176
Imprint: Viking
Published: 19th October 2021
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 240
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin.

10 thoughts on “Oh William! | Elizabeth Strout #USAfiction

  1. Interesting that Strout felt the need to expand the Lucy Barton universe. I think most people assumed it was a literary decision. Your conclusion invites the question, was it in fact just a commercial one.

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    1. Quite possible. I know I read with the second Olive it was a case of years later suddenly being confronted by an image of Olive that made Strout realise that she wasn’t done with her either. I find that fascinating how some characters become real for their authors.

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  2. I think I am passing this trilogy for now! But I am supremely intrigued at how this book came about. From what little I understand without having read any book ( and of course possibly being completely wrong and unfair) it seems like a story despite cliché was drummed up to make up the third book or keep the clout of the first book going. Like I said I am probably completely wrong! I do admire your stick-to-itvness; I do not think I would have had your patience.

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    1. It’s very possible that commercial incentive was behind the third book, although I tend to see it more as an author who is inhabited by her characters, haunted even. Who simply has to keep on telling their stories until they have said all they want to say.

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    1. Strout certainly has the ability to get under the skin of her characters. I do love how she teases out their issues and personalities via personal reflection as well as seeing them through the eyes of others. There are also tantalising gaps or silences where the reader can insert their own opinions/ideas about what has happened and the impact it has had on the characters.

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