I really enjoyed Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout. It is one of those books where the plot does not sound like anything exciting, but the writing is exceptional. The story follows a mother and her adolescent daughter as they grow both apart and together through a spring and summer. They live in a small town and various individuals from the town with their various trials and tribulations have secondary roles in the story. The plot construction is non-linear, keeping the reader engaged as little bits and pieces are gradually revealed. It starts at the beginning of the summer, with hints that something has caused a rift between Isabelle and her daughter, Amy. We gradually learn how the rift came about through flashbacks back to January. Eventually the story moves on through the summer, but we are still treated to occasional flashbacks, to Isabelle’s youth. The writing is beautiful, easily evoking feelings and images through descriptions that include little details of the characters’ everyday life and surroundings. Unlike the typical coming-of-age story, in Amy and Isabelle the reader is treated to the perspectives of both the daughter and her mother. The mother is not static, but is also growing and changing, in relationship to her daughter and in relationship to the world. It is, overall, a beautiful story with insight into the human condition. I highly recommend it and I look forward to reading Elizabeth Strout’s other books.
Here are a few passages for you to enjoy:
There was all sorts of unhappiness in Shirley Falls that night. If Isabelle Goodrow had been able to lift the roof off various houses and peer into their domestic depths she would have found an assortment of human miseries. Barbara Rawley, for one, had discovered in the shower the week before a small lump in her left breast, and was now, as she waited for arrangements in Boston to be made, in a state of panic the proportions of which she had never thought possible; for alongside the dark terror of waiting for the future (was she actually going to die?) was the private realization that she had married the wrong man: her husband, lying next to her in their dark bedroom while she spoke quietly of her fears, had had the audacity to fall asleep.
The midafternoon light that filtered through the window seemed to hang suspended in a living room vaguely unfamiliar – they were not used to being together there this time of day except on weekends, and that was very different. So right off the scene carried with it the oppressive feeling of a sickroom; and four o’clock had always been the saddest time of day for Isabelle anyway, even in the spring, or especially in the spring.
Once or twice Amy got up to go to the ladies’ room, but she suffered from excruciating self-consciousness each time she left her desk. Should she announce to Fat Bev that she was going to the bathroom? Murmuring, she got up from her seat and blushed. Walking through the large room between the rows of desks, she sensed the women’s eyes upon her and felt ten feet tall, and naked.