Lead Review

  • Book: Oh William!
  • Location: New York City (NYC)
  • Author: Elizabeth Strout

Review Author: Tina Hartas



I have long been a fan of Elizabeth Strout’s work because of her gently evocative storytelling. In this novel her character Lucy Barton is reflecting upon the trajectory of life, she is recently widowed but still maintains a good enough relationship with her first husband William, father of their two daughters. They communicate and spend time together quite comfortably and he asks her to join him on a trip to look up a step sister, whose existence he has only recently discovered.

The reader joins the pair on their trip as they mooch through their childhood experiences and how their parents’ experiences have coloured them as people and partners. They consider their recent losses and the pleasure they have had so far of observing their children grow. William has a third daughter with his subsequent wife, who has now recently abandoned him.

There are snatches of intimacy, and, oh, William can be a little passive aggressive at times and then withdraw. His insight into his behaviour seems quite limited. Lucy – and you can sense it – rolls her eyes and moves on. This is the portrayal of the nitty gritty elements of a marriage that has run its course, as they travel from New York to places on the East Coast, which the author captures with simply told astuteness. The novel is of course ponderous, that is the nature of the author’s style, perhaps a little overly so in this novel. There were times when I wondered whether Lucy was exhibiting mild symptoms of being on the Autism Spectrum because her one liners and responses occasionally seemed abrupt and didn’t seem to quite chime with what was going on. Both she and William have moments when they withdraw to recoup their thoughts, contemplate their circumstances and reflect on what has been and what might come down the line.

The author is incredibly adept at describing the minutiae of people interacting and then setting her characters in a context, bringing their surroundings to life. The writing as always is superb but this one is perhaps just a little drawn out.

Setting isn’t overly strong, although you do get a sense of New York and you learn about some of the places they visit on their trip (like Bangor, Maine).

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