Readers first fell in love with Lucy Barton in Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, a gentle reflection on the titular character’s life and parental influence during an extended hospitalization. In Oh William!, it’s been years since Lucy left her first husband, William. But despite the many affairs he conducted during their marriage and her own affair that prompted her departure, they remain each other’s confidants.
As the novel opens, Lucy has been widowed for a year after the death of her second husband, David. She explores her grief throughout the book, but her devotion to William also demands her attention. As in each of Strout’s novels about Lucy, her narration is nearly a stream of consciousness. The novel’s lack of chapter breaks reinforces its interior nature and invites readers to immerse themselves in Lucy’s ruminations.
As Lucy contemplates her lasting bond with William, she considers their marriage and the ways their relationship has affected their daughters. She also takes the reader through the pair’s misadventures in their later years. It isn’t always clear whether Lucy likes or respects her ex-husband, but her tie to him is unbreakable, her curiosity about him unwavering: “I wondered who William was. I have wondered this before. Many times I have wondered this.”
Likewise, William turns to Lucy, rather than to his current wife, when his sleep is disrupted by night terrors involving his late mother. And it’s Lucy he seeks when he confronts a secret his mother kept from him.
Pulitzer Prize winner Strout is a master of quiet, reflective stories that are driven more by their characters than by events. Her fans will find plenty to love as Lucy and William set out to explore his family history. At each step, Lucy contemplates her relationships to the people around her. Though she often feels invisible, her ties to William, their daughters and the strangers they encounter remind her that she has a place in the world.