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Amy and Isabelle: A novel Paperback – February 1, 2000 by Elizabeth Strout (Author)

I read this book long ago pre-Kindle and just purchased and re-read it. I was not disappointed and am happy to have it in my permanent Kindle library. It is the story of a mother and daughter, but so much more. Elizabeth Strout has the unique ability to grab your attention from the first page, without any huge event or histrionics, and from that point on you can hardly put the story down. Amy (the daughter) and Isabelle (her mother) live in a small mill town in Maine. Isabelle has worked at the mill as a secretary for 15 years under the pretense of being a widow and all the while longing for the attentions of her married boss. Amy is a 15-year-old who despises her mother for what she sees as her coldness and isolation. But there’s so much more going on under the surface and one long hot rainless summer it all comes boiling out and over and their lives will never be the same. Check it out! Review “It was terribly hot the summer Mr. Robertson left town.” For Amy Goodrow and her mother, Isabelle, the heat of that summer is the least of their problems. Other citizens in the New England mill town of Shirley Falls are bothered by the heat and by “other things too: Further up the river crops weren’t right–pole beans were small, shriveled on the vine, carrots stopped growing when they were no bigger than the fingers of a child; and two UFOs had apparently been sighted in the north of the state.” But Amy and Isabelle have a more private misery: a seemingly unbridgeable chasm has opened between this once-close mother and daughter and nothing will ever be the same again. For Amy has fallen in love with her high-school math teacher, Mr. Robertson, who has gone way beyond the bounds of propriety by encouraging the crush. When Isabelle finds out, she is horrified to realize that her anger at him is dwarfed by her rage at her own daughter for “enjoying the sexual pleasures of a man while she herself had not.” Mother-daughter novels can, by virtue of their subject matter, often seem claustrophobic, a little overwrought; Elizabeth Strout masterfully avoids this problem by placing Amy and Isabelle in the larger context of the community they inhabit. Though her main focus is on the Goodrow women, Strout often detours into the lives and thoughts of her many secondary characters: Isabelle’s coworkers Dottie Brown and Fat Bev; Amy’s best friend, Stacy Burrows; Stacy’s ex-boyfriend, Paul Bellows; and women from Isabelle’s church such as Peg Dunlap and Barbara Rawley. She also introduces a chilling frisson of menace with the unsolved abduction of a 12-year-old girl and a mysterious obscene phone-caller. Like the best of Alice Hoffman, Amy and Isabelle offers up a moving yet resolutely unsentimental portrait of people coming to terms with their lives, finding unsuspected nobility in themselves and unexpected kindness in others along the way. Elizabeth Strout has written a gem of a novel. –Alix Wilber –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Amy and Isabelle: A novel Paperback – February 1, 2000 by Elizabeth Strout (Author) Review

Like The Burgess Boys, Amy and Isabelle is a powerful story about how a moment can spin lives into new paths. Reflecting back Isabelle ponders “She had never really imagined-that was the thing. But imagine it now, standing in your kitchen, wondering what to make for dinner that night, checking the refrigerator-and the telephone rings. One minute your world is one way, the next minute it’s all caved in. ” (Loc 4889)There are a few such moments in the novel. Toward the end viewing a friend’s moment of crisis “. ..she [Isabelle] could see. She could easily see that. God knew she could see how one’s entire life could be taken apart and that Dottie’s life was being taken apart right now, almost in front of Isabelle’s eyes. ” (Loc 4061). Unlike The Burgess Boys where we see the impact an accident affects the lives of siblings half a lifetime later, in Amy And Isabelle we see the primary moment of change, Amy’s seduction by her teacher, build slowly but inexorably through the first half of the book. Powerful and destructive changes occur immediately and affect the mother and daughter the rest of their lives. Isabelle’s struggle is to find some sense of grace and forgiveness both for her daughter and herself. Then tension builds again for another set of changes one night that adjusts the course of lives once again. “But what could you do? Only keep going. People kept going; they had been doing it for thousands of years. You took the kindness offered, letting it seep as far in as it could go, and the remaining dark crevices you carried around with you, knowing that over time they might change into something almost bearable. Dottie, Bev, Isabelle, in their own ways knew this. But Amy was young. She didn’t know yet what se could or could not bear, and silently she clung like a dazed child to all three mothers in the room. ” (Loc 4993)Elizabeth Strout is a wonderful writer. She comfortably and completely inhabits her characters and their physical and emotional landscapes. She has a beautiful style of writing and weaves words together to build a work of art. I particularly like one aspect of her style where she doesn’t show us the internal view of one of the major characters – Mr Robertson the teacher in this case. We only see him through the eyes of Amy and Isabelle; so we never get a sense of his motivations and struggles. Strout does a marvelous job examining one small moment are viewed so differently by the different people involved: “‘Are you hungry, Amy? Would you like something to eat?’ And Amy simply shook her head, not able to speak because of some swift, unarticulated compassion for her mother. But Isabelle in her memory, for the rest of her life, saw Amy’s indifferent shake of her head as proof that already the girl had been lost to her. ..” (Loc 5292). Elizabeth Strout captures these universal moments we all experience and reflects them back to us clearly and powerfully; isn’t that the job of an artist? -Read Reviews-

Having read all Elizabeth Strout’s novels, I was disappointed in Amy and Isabelle. While all her novels have very troubled complex characters, I did not find the characters in this novel as accessible. There are burst of compelling and disturbing story telling and then pages in between that seem to drag. I am Lucy Barton is a much better mother-daughter story by the same author.

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