Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout


Oh William! is Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s third novel in the Amagash series featuring author Lucy Barton. Lucy is grieving the loss of her second husband David and she notes that grief “is like sliding down a really long glass building while nobody sees you.” In her loneliness and grief for David, she also feels more of a connection with her first husband William who lives not far from her in New York City. Lucy met William when she was in college and he’s the father of her two daughters. After Lucy learned of Willaim’s affairs, she left him, but they’ve remained friends so when his third wife leaves him, anguished William calls Lucy. 

This quiet gem of a novel explores the way we’re all mysteries no matter how well we think we know one another. Lucy grew up poor, isolated, and essentially ignored by her parents. William grew up with money and his mother doted on him. William’s mother wore a signature scent and Lucy adopted one too. She could never buy enough body lotion with her scent. Her psychiatrist told her, “It’s because you think you stink,”

“She was right.

My sister and my brother and I were told on the playground almost every day at school by the other children, while they ran off with their noses pinched. ‘your family stinks.’”

It wasn’t until recently with the success of her writing career and her happy marriage to David that Lucy began to value herself and to see that she was more than an unloved child. So when William told her that he’d learned that his mother had had another child before he was born and that he wanted Lucy to go with him to Maine to learn about his mother and his relatives, Lucy obliged. She and her daughters were concerned about William’s recent behavior and when she saw him wearing pants that were too short, she exclaimed “Oh, William.” As she traveled with William, there were many more occasions for Oh William! declarations as Lucy accompanied him to abate both his and her own troubles.

Strout’s low-key observations of the dying small towns, the minuscule hovel where Lucy’s mother-in-law grew up, the cluttered living room of William’s half-sister, and the random people they passed on the road create an amalgam that offers an “Our Town” meets Travels with Charley view of humanity. Her astute observations remind us that we can know everything there is to know about people yet they’re still “mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries.”

Elizabeth Strout is the queen of understatement. She captures readers with her restraint as she boils everything down to the essentials. Oh William! is a masterpiece of a novel that made this reader grateful to be human.

Summing it Up: Read Oh William! and fall into Elizabeth Strout’s subtle, yet masterful narrative of two seemingly average people dealing with grief, loneliness, and the vagaries of life.

Rating: 5 Stars

Categories: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Gourmet, Book Club

Publication Date: October 19, 2021

Author Website: https://www.elizabethstrout.com/ 

Read an Excerpt: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/534452/oh-william-by-elizabeth-strout/ 

What Others are Saying:

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/elizabeth-strout/oh-william/ 

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8129-8943-4 

"Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement." - Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

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