Review of Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
I love Elizabeth Strout's books, but I didn't feel connected to the character of Lucy or her ruminations in Oh William! the way I did in Anything Is Possible or My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors, and this recently published book is her newest in the interconnected Lucy Barton web she's woven.
In Oh William! Lucy examines her relationship with her first husband, William, and reflects on the fact that he has always been somewhat of a mystery to her. The two have remained connected through the years, and the closed-off William has always leaned on Lucy for support, despite the fact that he has been married two other times since Lucy, including to his current wife. Lucy remarried as well and is recently widowed.
Now William has uncovered a family secret that shakes him, and he asks Lucy to travel with him to investigate the truth.
In one respect Oh William! is an exploration of love, loss, friendship, forgiveness, and unshakable bonds. But I became impatient with Lucy's extensive ruminations and her speculation about what other people may have possibly felt or thought during certain moments in the past and her emphasis on examining tiny details of situations and memories.
The frequent, stammering "...is what I mean" qualifiers within Lucy's private observations or recollections contributed to a sense that her middle-aged character was generally hesitant, unsure of herself, and without a clear sense of her own mind. This felt like somewhat of a departure from the thoughtful analysis of the past I recalled from her faulted, more self-aware character in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Meanwhile, William is narcissistic, often childish, and seemingly shallow, and it felt odd to have so much of Lucy's focus and energy turned upon him.
The people Lucy has built her life around admiring and has spent her time clinging to as steady presences felt in many cases to be insufferable, selfish, and with little sense of duty or loyalty, and sometimes they aggressively asserted their own versions of reality regardless of the truth. We see Lucy begin to scrape the surface of discovering others' vulnerabilities, to realize her own self-told lies, and to recognize shortcomings in herself and in others, but while her own cherished versions of the past are in some cases threatened, her explorations of all of this didn't feel fully realized.
I received a prepublication electronic version of this book courtesy of Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
In each of these books, Strout wonderfully mines small moments that make up a life.