Sometimes just a second part isn’t enough

Earlier this year, I wrote about the inherent disappointment—small, but not insignificant—that comes when a sequel to a beloved book arrives, and how the update has a hard time living up to whatever future we envisioned for the characters after the original.

The central example I gave was Tom Perrotta’s sequel to Election, Tracey Flick Can’t Win. Another example of the phenomenon cited is the follow-up to Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s “Olives Again” Olive Kerridge.

But thanks to Strout, I’m adjusting my mind.

I have now decided that my complement theory was incomplete. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong to write a follow-up to a once-highly regarded novel, as much as it might be better to write three stories in a row, as Strout did with her character Lucy Barton, in a series that began with the 2016 song “My Name Is Lucy Barton” and includes Now the latest single, “Lucy by the Sea.”

If you turn on the Disney Channel, you’ll see a seemingly endless selection of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) content. Well, I’m here to testify that Elizabeth Strout is working on something with her fantasy world, Lucy Barton (LBFU). Seeing it in print, the acronym probably wouldn’t spread, but after I devoured Lucy by the Sea in one day, I started thinking that I might just need to check on Lucy every year, or else how would I know what my dear friend was about to do?

As a reader, it is not unusual for me to develop a sense of intimacy with a book or a fictional character. This is, after all, one of the reasons I enjoy reading so much, but it’s interesting to think about how Strout was created and then expands the storytelling world of her character, Lucy Barton, and what it’s like to read a series of books using her in the center.

The original “My Name Is Lucy Barton” introduces us to Lucy, a successful writer who escaped her childhood deprivation in rural Illinois for the life of a successful writer in New York City. Lucy has to spend a few days in the hospital alone, and her estranged mother comes to see her. There is a little action, but I had trouble reading it during jury duty as I was so engrossed.

Anything Is Possible expands the universe through a series of short stories about the people of Amgashe, Illinois, Lucy’s hometown. “Oh, William!” In the aftermath of the abandonment of her ex-husband by his third wife (Lucy is his first) and discovering that he has a sister he had never known before, Lucy embarks on the adventure. William and Lucy have settled in “Lucy by the Sea” in remote Maine, spending the first year of the epidemic.

The way Strout creates such intimacy with Lucy is an amazing feat of extremely meticulous technical skill, and one that’s easy to overlook. Instead of reading like a “novel,” the stories unfold almost as if we were firsthand privy to Lucy’s thoughts, or we’re reading a semi-diary, the material the novelist records for later conversion into fiction. It’s a story that doesn’t sound like a story.

Lucy goes through things – like being holed up with her ex-husband during the pandemic – and tries (and sometimes fails) to figure it out. The Lucy we meet in “My Name Is Lucy Barton” is still trying to understand her long-deceased mother in “Lucy by the Sea.” There are no good conclusions here, only life and its unusually ordinary struggles.

Catching up with Lucy is really like catching up with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, but often think about. Hope there are more installments on the way.

John Warner is the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Essentials.

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read

1. “Bio” by Catherine Lacey

2. “The Role of the Screw and Other Stories” by Henry James

3. “Office of Historic Corrections” by Daniel Evans

4. “Victoria: The Queen” by Julia Bird

5. “Bad Blood” by arne dal

Kristen C, Skokie

Kristen is not bothered by a story with too much psychological intensity. “The Phone” by Percival Everett sounds like a good bet.

1. “Only time will prove.” by Jeffrey Archer

2. “Ramp” by Dervla McTiernan

3. “Nine Lives” by Peter Swanson

4. “Rock Paper Scissors” by Alice Finney

5. “Al Capone does my shirts” By Jennifer Zoldenko

– Nancy Yu, Wheaton

Nancy is sure to enjoy a good, suspenseful story that will keep you guessing. Ruth Weir excels at this in The Woman in Cabin 10.

1. “Guest List” by Lucy Foley

2. “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks

3. “Evelyn Hugo’s Seven Husbands” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

4. “Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead

5. “Dutch House” by Ann Patchett

– Lisa T. Chicago

“Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray is a coming-of-age mystery/comedy/tragedy that stuffs any emotion you can imagine into a lengthy reading experience that includes a good reading experience and is a good match for Lisa (or almost anyone, really).

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