Elizabeth Strout on ‘Lucy by the Sea’

HARPSWIL, Maine – Here, in her childhood Mid Coast Maine village, in a house overlooking the Atlantic, Elizabeth Strout chose to install the characters in her new novel “Lucy by the Sea.” You may know these characters well. Lucy Barton (from three previous novels) and her ex-husband William Gerhard (from “Oh William!”) withdrew to Maine to get rid of the initial outbreak of the pandemic, and end up staying over a year.

Strout, 66, is a novelist who cannot abandon her loved ones, whose incredible productivity delights her loyal readers. “Lucy by the Sea,” published Tuesday, is her sixth book in less than a decade. The characters tend to come full on Strout, a visit, and keep coming back to it, as if to say, CertainlyAnd the You are not done with me yet.

“I have a deep connection with them. In order to write about them, I need to inhabit them as fully as possible,” says Strout of her nearby home, a duplex in a gorgeous 1851 building adorned with hammered tin ceilings. You rarely kill a character except for a spare pair or two. “It’s hard to get them to go away,” says Strout.

Laura Linney, who starred in the one-woman production of “My Name Is Lucy Barton” on Broadway and twice in London, says Strout’s characters are “so alive, they still tap your shoulder.”

So, the whole gang is here! In “Lucy by the Sea” Strout calls Bob Burgess (from “The Burgess Boys”); Isabel (from her first appearance, “Amy and Isabel”); And yes, the indomitable Olive Kitteridge of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it is Appearing, “Olives, Again,” the Emmy-laden HBO adaptation starring Frances McDormand. (Strout adores McDormand’s performance but finds the actress absolutely beautiful for the role.)

For Strout, writing is a work of inspiration. And she always writes, often in her studio above nearby a store. She’s surprised that Lucy is back for a fourth novel, but here she is.

“I never know what’s going to happen. Because I always feel that if I’m not surprised, the reader won’t be surprised,” she says. For Strout, writing is “purely intuitive.” She rarely predicts how her books will end. As Lucy notes, in a note Strout’s favorite in the new novel: “It is a gift in this life that we do not know what awaits us.”

There is a pressing generosity in the Strout books and a restraint that obscures the complexity of their construction. Her literary success appears to be similar to Hemingway’s remark of how someone might break down: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” Her first novel was published on her 42nd birthday in 1998, after years of constant rejection that did nothing to break her impulsiveness or discipline. Now, dedicated readers are expecting a new Strout book every year or so.

“She had to work for this,” says its editor, Random House publisher Andy Ward. She has dedicated her life to it. It’s really ego-free. The focus for her is on her book and the characters. She never shows off.”

Perhaps, this is their Mainer. Her mother’s family has lived here since 1603; Her father’s family arrived recently – the middle of the 18th century. I grew up in a house without newspapers or television, but there was a New Yorker subscription. Strout writes about people who might be overlooked at first sight, and often the older characters—she grew up surrounded by tough, elderly Maine women—who were born into abject poverty and broken circumstances.

Strout loved describing the coast of Maine through her character and seeing it all again. Strout wrote about Lucy, who grew up in Illinois observing the ocean for the first time. “This is the Sea! It was like a foreign country to me.” Few novelists lend exclamation marks such a self-confidence.

Tall and elegant, the Strout appears immune to ostentation and refrains from criticizing others, even in places. She prevents herself from making an unkind comment about a nearby town that has been through hard times for so long. During a long afternoon interview, she was gracious, observant, and candid. She can’t cook but wants to make sure her guest gets lunch—like Lucy, a trout largely uninterested in food due to her dreary gastronomy childhood—and she’s cursed with an extremely miserable sense of direction, even in places she’s known her forever.

Since Strout’s relatively late start, books, popularity, and awards have remained roughly constant: nine novels; More than 5.2 million copies in print, according to its publisher; And a frequent dock on the bestseller list. Ward describes her as “the least important writer. She’s just in the zone right now. She writes all the time, and does some of the best work of her career.”

“Oh, William!” It is among six novels nominated for this year’s Booker Prize. (She was longlisted for “Lucy Barton” in 2016.) “No one writes the inner life like Strout,” the judges noted. “Barton is one of the timeless characters of literature–fragile, damaged, collapsible, vulnerable, and most of all, ordinary, like all of us.”

Her mother encouraged Strout to write and observe everything. She remembers completing her first story at the age of 9 or 10. She realized at an early age that her father was kinder than her mother, but her mother was more interesting.

“I’ve never had a writer’s block. My typewriter’s block takes shape poorly, which is much better,” she says, perched on a cream sofa covered in a lemon print fabric. Books are stacked everywhere on the wooden floor. “It happens to me all the time.” Oh, well, today was awful. I just wrote bad things, and tomorrow I will write better things. “On a fine day writing,” James Tierney, her second husband of 10 years, says, “she was excited like a teenager. Her eyes flashed.” Tierney, a former Maine attorney general, and Harvard Law School lecturer.

On the way to becoming a published author, Strout attempted acting, stand-up comedy, working in a shoe mill, cocktail waitress, playing piano at a cocktail bar, teaching writing, law school and practicing law for six months.

“I was a terrible lawyer, just bad,” she says. “It turned out that I had no hostile bone in my body. I was very young and very stupid.”

She believes it was all in the service of becoming the writer she is today: “I I guess I’ve just been training for a really, really, really long time.” My summer in the shoe factory I told Amy and Isabel, set in a factory office, the characters inspired by the stories of former co-workers. Law school taught her to write tightly and to ignore excess emotions. Standing provided lessons in spreading candor and direct interaction with readers. Acting allowed her to inhabit other characters. “I loved the idea of ​​being a different person,” she says. “This is what motivated me in my writing. I want to know what it feels like to be someone else.”

Lenny says of Strout’s writing: “It’s a skill above skill. It doesn’t seem technical at all. It’s capable of extracting truth to a level of disguise. It hits your body, mind, and heart, especially when you hear the language out loud, but also when you are quietly alone reading the book” .

Strout is a bookstore favorite for independent books and a staple in book collections. For Olive Kittridge Reader’s Guide, I got into a “conversation” with her character, Olive Don’t miss a point. “I think about my readers all the time. I love my readers,” says Strout. “So I have a perfect reader. If I can make a character, I can make a reader.” Her reader “has no gender but is right in front of me when I write. “The reader’s presence is very clear to me,” she says. “I never, ever write for myself.”

Strutt lived in Manhattan for many years, raising her only child, playwright Zarina Shea, and still keeps a studio apartment. She loved living elsewhere and didn’t think she’d go back to Maine. New York is where she met Tierney, a divorced father of five, at one of her author’s events. Having scored the last ticket, he hastened to be the first to meet her next in the long line. When he walked out the door “He turned left and looked right, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is what my life should have been,'” Strout recalls. “

But Tierney removed his email address on a small piece of newsprint. “We met twice. Then he moved in.” We waited a year to get married because we didn’t want to scare the kids. It was very innocent and very romantic.”

Strout finds herself in Maine, near the city she left seemingly for good, because Tierney wanted to be here. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, they gather in their home state. How do you not write about the epidemic? “I couldn’t think of writing anything else. I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

“She has to get it right,” Tierney says. “Her commitment to accuracy is amazing.” Lucy Barton is originally from the fictional rural town of Amgache, Illinois. “Her voice kind of reached, and I thought, ‘Okay, I see the sky. “I literally saw this giant sky and this tiny little house,” says Strout. But her talent for conjuring characters out of nowhere does not extend to their physical surroundings. So she and Tierney went to Illinois and Iowa as well to discover their own Amgashes, visiting three times to capture the different seasons. It seemed important that her characters were not confined to their country of origin. “It was so much fun getting them out of Maine,” she says.

Politics quietly and occasionally creeps into Strout’s business. Olive is an ardent Democrat who thinks poorly of George W. Bush. “I got a lot of hate mail, and I didn’t think much about it, but it was years ago and things are changing,” says Strout. In her last book, January 6, 2021, he was mentioned, as were the former president’s supporters, although his name was never mentioned. Strout is well aware that, due to her large audience, she has fans of divergent political beliefs. “I don’t want to put off readers, although I think I probably will,” she says.

Sees Literary Strout Tribute and growing readership at a later age as gifts. “I’m really glad it didn’t happen to me early on. I think it worked exactly the way it should have,” she says. “These chests, chests, and rejection chests have been earned, and thus, judgments have been obtained. And until they have a full gain, they shouldn’t be there.”

She realized when she was young, even if she was a bad lawyer, that “that’s what I’m here for,” she says of writing. “I’ve always known that. I’ve always understood that about myself.” Unlike Lucy, who wrote a memoir, Strout does not intend to write her life story: “No, never, not in my wildest dreams!”

It delves into the next novel, which is likely to be published in 2024. It seems that its characters have no intention of leaving. “Yes, they all come back. I feel like I have a million stories to tell,” she says happily. “They just keep getting angry.”

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