Thoughts on Elizabeth Strout
Sometimes I can’t help thinking about my favourite writers. You know, the ones that make you feel like everything will be okay. It’s not even what they write that makes you feel that way, it’s the way they write it, the words they choose, how the sentences swirl and come together.
I’ve been reading a lot of Elizabeth Strout lately. She writes in a way that makes me feel alive but if I had to explain why I don’t even know where to begin. I feel protected by her writing, I feel safe, I feel like I’m in the hands of someone so much smarter and so much wiser than me – and I find that so comforting. I used to want to be her - or, to write like her anyway. But now I don’t want that, not really. I just want to be wrapped up in her stories, to sit with her characters. I just want to be alone with Lucy Barton, Olive Kitteridge, with Amy and Isabelle Goodrow. I want them to tell me how things are, or how they should be, what the sky looks like, how the flowers curled in the sun on Tuesday morning, how the coffee was too weak, the tea too strong. I want Olive to frown and purse her lips at me. I want Lucy to shiver in the hospital bed. I want to be told things, over and over - about the sun sparkling on the water’s surface, or the heat of the day, the dinner party that went wrong, the marriage that dissolved, the lovers that found they no longer knew how to love.
Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what’s happening in the story. It’s the mood I want to immerse myself in. I just want to drift along with what is happening, even if not much is happening. But even when it is still, and we are just sitting in a room remembering something, I am struck by how much is going on. And sometimes it even feels like it’s happening to me. Elizabeth Strout’s characters are not just characters; they are people, who live and breathe in one way or another, and I love them. I love them because they make me feel like I am someone, like I am less alone. They make me feel understood and sometimes this shocks me. Of course, this is reading, the magic, the beauty of books, I know all that and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. But sometimes it still shocks me. How words on a page can do this, how they can change you in such a way.
Out of her eight books, I don’t know what my favourite Elizabeth Strout book is. I always think I know but then I remember another one that I love and I decide I can’t possibly pick. It feels wrong, because her books all feel like they belong to me; they all feel like they are a part of me somehow. Isn’t it funny, to feel so close to a fictional character. Yet sometimes I feel closer to these people than I do to those I know in real life. But what is real life anyway?
I just finished rereading ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ and I was struck by the things Lucy didn’t tell us. All the gaps, the silences. So much can be said with silence, without saying anything at all. This is the way of life, Lucy says. I’m glad Lucy is in my life, that I can return to her anytime I want. I don’t think she is waiting for me because I like to imagine that her world is moving, turning, spinning even when I’m not there to witness it. But she’s there and she will always be there. That is so comforting to me.