This is a lovely, heartfelt, deeply endearing story about the Covid lockdown as experienced by one of Elizabeth Strout’s most beloved characters, Lucy Barton. And while each of us has our own unique story to tell about this unsettling time, somehow Lucy manages to speak for many of us about the isolation, fear, uncertainties, anxieties, disruption, and political unrest, as well as the newfound friendships, love, and personal growth that defined 2020 and 2021.
It’s March 2020 and this strange, fearsome virus is making its presence known. Lucy is still reeling from the death a year ago of her beloved second husband, David, when her first husband, William, calls her and tells her in no uncertain terms that he is whisking her away from New York City to the wilds of coastal Maine to save her life. Lucy is confused. Figuring that William’s odd trip to Maine with her in tow will last a few weeks at most, she packs only one small suitcase. The two rent a house and set up platonic housekeeping, while also trying to rescue their two married daughters, who live in New York City.
The heart and soul of the story is how Lucy and William adjust to the isolation, make new friends, and discover new things about themselves as individuals and each other as a couple. In addition to dealing with grief for those close to them who die of Covid, Lucy wrestles with being the mother to grown-up daughters who don’t particularly need her, as well as horrifying memories of her terrible, abusive childhood.
But the most brilliant parts of the book are how Strout addresses the disparities of the lockdown—the ultimate haves vs. the have nots, as well as the vast and stark political differences of the country. Her prose should be read by everyone for a greater understanding of how “the other” thinks—no matter who “the other” is for you.
Written in Lucy’s first-person voice, this ingenious novel reminds me of two friends conversing about the details of their day. It is filled with both joy and sorrow, and at times it is brutally raw with human emotion.
A really fun bonus: Characters from other Strout novels make appearances big and small, including Bob Burgess from “The Burgess Boys” and Olive Kitteridge from the “Olive Kitteridge” and “Olive, Again.” While you can totally appreciate “Lucy by the Sea” as a standalone book without having read any of the others before it (it is fourth in the “Lucy Barton” series), it’s a much richer experience if you know what comes previously.
This novel resonates with wisdom, insights, and a deep, almost visceral, understanding of what it means to be fully human. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of a soft, comfortable blanket. It will make you feel warm and good all over, knowing that even though we all felt so alone and lonely at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, we are not alone and lonely. We still have each other. And we still have Lucy Barton.