Lucy Barton, a writer with a book launch and tour on the horizon, struggles to deal with the death of her beloved second husband, David. Her first husband, William, with whom she maintains a friendly relationship, convinces her to escape Manhattan to a rental home in coastal Maine where they’ll ride out the impending public health crisis caused by an unrelenting virus. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but William is a scientist who follows the news and understands the warnings. Lucy, whose life has had its share of catastrophes, including a poverty-driven childhood, a contentious mother-daughter relationship, William’s affairs, and now inconceivable widowhood, isn’t ready for another crisis. Nevertheless, she believes William even if she hasn’t been paying attention to the world around her.
Throwing clothes and a few important things in a bag (thinking it’ll be a week or two), Lucy accompanies William to a place vastly different from the Manhattan she knows intimately. There, they take lengthy walks, make friends, observe social distancing protocols, re-discover their lost relationship, and keep an eye on the news as the place they left seems to fall into a death spiral. Separated from family and friends, Lucy constantly worries about them and reaches out, feeling helpless as this one or that one contracts Covid-19 and as they lose this or that friend or family member.
Lucy by the Sea is a quiet novel of a woman trying to make sense of her profound loss, a global pandemic, the changes the country and the world go through, the separation and distance she feels from her grown daughters, and her slow realization that Covid-19 isn’t going away in a week or two. Like everyone, she tries to navigate her isolation and finds ways to have human interaction aside from William. As the days pass, Lucy learns things about herself and sees people in a different light as the days plod onward. The little things she thinks about, tiny memories triggered by an errant thought or by seeing or hearing something become more important than she had ever thought.
Strout’s frugal but expressive prose recaptures the disconnection, confusion, and uncertainty of that period of recent memory wherein Covid-19 changed the way we think about so many things we took for granted and the way we think about ourselves and others. Strout writes in snippets of Lucy’s thoughts, realizations, wonderings, adding Lucy’s feelings about each as if she were making declarations with thumbs up or down, whether she was aware of something or not. Lucy has no qualms in revealing her deepest thoughts to the readers. While Lucy’s experience with the pandemic is vastly different from mine or perhaps yours, it is honest and believable, and her feelings and fears are such that Lucy will, in one way or another, resonate with the reader.
Lucy by the Sea published September 20, 2022 and is Strout’s fourth book featuring Lucy Barton.
Side Note: This is the fifth book I’ve read in 2022 set on the coast of Maine. Four of those books are novels, and one is non-fiction. This was a thoroughly unplanned reading experience, but it has been a delightful one.