I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lies the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters.
Wow, this little book went by quickly! But it deals with deep issues, the stuff that nobody likes to talk about, especially if you’re directly involved. As Lucy and her mother are.
Despite what Lucy tells us about writing—that one should plunge right in and confront the main issues—that’s not how this book is structured. It’s all about reading between the lines, intuiting what’s going on, and piecing together the bits & pieces that Lucy deigns to throw to us, the readers. She tosses out tidbits of information, all from her own point of view and we have no other voices to give us some balance. Only what she reports that her mother or her siblings or her husband said.
A flighty and somewhat untrustworthy narrator, our Lucy, and yet I felt compelled to sift through the fragments to try to figure out exactly what happened in that family home to make her into the uncomfortable person that she currently is. Was it just poverty? Or what else was happening?
If you enjoyed this novel, you might also like The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. Both examine women’s attempts to escape impoverished backgrounds (and incidentally, I've read both for my real-life book club).