10 March 2011

Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)

0375705198 (ISBN13: 9780375705199)
original title
Amy and Isabelle: A Novel

Goodreads Synopsis:
In a novel about emotional exile, Elizabeth Strout explores the secrets of sexuality that jeopardize the love between a mother and her daughter.

** spoiler alert ** This was a very well-crafted look at a troubled relationship between a mother and a daughter. What I loved about it was how true to form it was - the estrangement between mother and daughter was expected and realistic, and the ways they acted out both with & away from each other demonstrated the anger and hurt each was experiencing.

I hated to see Amy start down a path that was at best painful and at worst mentally & emotionally destructive, but I understood what drove her desire. She was hurting...she felt weird and ugly...and here is an adult man who made her feel special. She was young and innocent, and didn't see that she was being played the fool by an unwholesome - and ultimately cruel - man.

I hated that Isabelle was so closed off that she refused to allow herself to connect with friends, preferring instead to maintain her privacy and superior attitude toward virtually every woman with whom she came in contact, including her daughter. I hated that she didn't understand the need for friendship, because she felt that her existence, such as it was, was sufficient. She wasn't happy, and she didn't see a need to be. She fantasized about her boss, an older, frumpy, married man...this personal secret was more valuable to her than a real, loving relationship.

I hated that, when Isabelle found out about Amy's improper relationship with her teacher, that she attacked her physically, but it was clear that she couldn't help it at that moment. I hated that she never apologized. But what was good as a result of this meltdown was that the fault lines in the walls she had erected around her life were irreparable, and she finally was able to accept offers of friendship from the women in her office...kind, decent, ordinary women who reached out with tenderness when Isabelle finally admits her own indiscretions. Better even was her recognition that she had hurt her daughter in a way that until that moment she was unaware of, and her heartfelt remorse for that lead to a shift in their relationship that began to heal it.

What was perhaps my only quibble with the book was that, at the very end, Amy comes to the unfortunate understanding that she had a sexual attraction to older men, that they would pursue her, and that she wanted that. The visual encounter with (what I would call) a potentially pervy man in a diner on the way to visit her family showed me that she had learned nothing except that her obsession with Mr. Robertson would end, and there would be others to replace it. How sad.

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