My Name Is Lucy Barton

Everybody comes from somewhere.

Does everybody feel inferior and inadequate?

I do. My mother always told me someone else was the expert, knew better, and I couldn’t compete. My father would lionize outcasts, with glasses and straight A’s, and it drove my older sister nuts, she still feels like she’s competing with Kathy Eckber.

So when a book makes me feel like I’m not alone, that there are other people like me, I can’t put it down, I smile on the inside, I’ve got to tell you all about it, in case you feel like I do.

Elizabeth Strout is famous for “Olive Kitteridge,” an award-winning book that deserves its accolades. Olive is not lovable, breaking the mold Hollywood and the media tells us art must conform to. I hate when people tell me the characters in a movie are not likable. So many people in the world are not likable, I’m looking for truth.

And they made “Olive Kitteridge” into an HBO movie which I never finished, because the book was private and the film was for everybody. You know how you feel alone, with your thoughts, roaming through society as a party of one? That’s the feeling you got from Olive, you were inside her mind, which got you inside your own.

There was a follow-up book, “The Burgess Boys,” not quite as good as “Olive Kitteridge,” but satisfying.

And now this, “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” there were reviews and features for about two weeks and then nothing. It’s funny that way, how there’s a big hoopla and then silence. If something continues to be part of public discourse it’s a hit.

And I’m not sure “My Name Is Lucy Barton” is a hit.

I can see why. People need a linear plot, they need satisfaction, and “Lucy Barton” does not provide this. You’re not actually sure where it’s going and when it’s over you wonder if you missed something. Kinda like life. Get old enough and so many roads are closed off you have to own your location and that’s freaky, because it’s never where you expected it to be, and so much you wanted to accomplish you never will.

Lucy is sick. She’s in the hospital. Her mother comes to visit her. And you hear about her life.

She grew up dirt poor. People made fun of her.

Have you ever been made fun of? I have, which is why I will never do so. We can’t control our looks, we all commit faux pas, life is a struggle, what makes you so special that you have all the answers and can ridicule others? And sure, there are bullies, deranged solo actors. But so often the perpetrators are the cool club, the winners, the popular people in school. They’re put on a pedestal but they’re rotten to the core. That’s one great thing about graduating, leaving these people behind, and knowing that as you get older people can’t punch you, because it’s gonna cost ’em.

Lucy escaped the hinterlands. And her family never really forgave her for that. They want to keep you down, where they are, where they can continue to pick on you, keep you in your place. She got a scholarship to college and she got married and…

It didn’t solve her problems.

We all think if we reach that threshold, if we get to that point, if we achieve our heart’s desire, we’ll be happy, life will work out. But it doesn’t. You ultimately make the most of what you’ve got, but life has a way of twisting and turning and turning lemonade into lemons.

Not that anybody will say this.

We live in an age of positivity. Keep your chin up, be a winner, like the pop songs.

But inside we despair. We have too many questions and too few solutions. We’re insecure. That’s one thing I’ve learned in life, if someone is bragging about their achievements, focused on their possessions, despite their braggadocio they’re insecure inside, their balloon is always losing air, they’re afraid of being exposed.

Do you make peace with your family?

Do your siblings forgive you for moving on and garnering success or do they still poke at you while asking for money and favors all the while.

You have heroes.

But then you find out that the heroes are flawed.

There’s so much wisdom in “Lucy Barton,” let me extract some gems.

“I have no memory of my mother ever kissing me.”

Bingo, my dad either. Recently my mom has been giving me a peck, it feels good, but the truth is I’m incredibly inhibited when it comes to physical contact. I need a sign, a green light before I touch you. And feeling comfortable with contact…

“Then I understood I  would never marry him. It’s funny how one thing can make you realize something like that.”

Lucy’s in love with an artist. He asks her what she ate growing up. She ultimately told him baked beans, which was a positive spin on molasses and bread. He then asked if they sat around and farted after that.

People are cruel. Not all of them, but when you think you love someone and they treat you badly, when they say something that cuts you to the core, you know you can never spend your life with them.

“…and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

I understand. I’m not sure why I feel this way. Was it having two sisters and a father who was quite the breadwinner but far from a guy’s guy? I am lucky in that as I’ve grown older my social circle has grown, I fear for those my age who are uncoupled, who work in solitude, or maybe they’re just better adjusted than I am.

“I felt that she would leave soon. As has often been the case with me, I began to dread this in advance.”

I had to work with my shrink to learn how to get off the phone. I was thrilled people called me, that anybody wanted to talk to me, I’d listen to them for hours, for the contact, to cement the bond.

And when I feel conversation lagging and the party breaking up, I start asking questions and making jokes, anything to keep it going.

“I suspect I said nothing because I was doing what I have done most of my life, which is to cover for the mistakes of others when they don’t know they have embarrassed themselves.”

I’m always worried someone’s gonna say the wrong thing, make themselves look bad and others uncomfortable. I don’t know why it’s my responsibility, I’m working on letting go, it’s difficult, I don’t want anybody to get hurt.

“How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?”

When you find the answer, let me know.

But the truth is this is nothing we can learn from another, they can tell us we all put on our pants the same way, yet we still carry the weight of the loser. I’m making progress here too, learning that so many presenting their case with bluster are flawed, that those who succeed in one area are failures in another. And it’s not about putting them down but showing myself there’s an opening for me to play, that I can suit up and get on the field. That’s truly half the battle, so many are too inhibited, they can’t handle the scrutiny, they’re afraid to fail, someone needs to succeed, maybe it can be me.

If you’re looking for business insight, “My Name Is Lucy Barton” is not for you.

But if you feel like you just don’t fit in, that something happened to you long ago and it’s holding you back, you should crack it.

If you believe art is about illustrating the human condition, making you feel connected, and delivering insight all at the same time, this is your book.

It’s an easy read.

It might be too difficult to discuss.

But you’ll treasure it.

My Name Is Lucy Barton

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