Summary: (from Amazon) Isabelle Goodrow thought her move to the small mill town of Shirley Falls would be temporary-just until she decided in which direction she wanted her life to head. Now her daughter, Amy, has fallen in love with her high school math teacher, and he takes advantage of the teen's infatuation. When the relationship is discovered, Isabelle is furious with her daughter but also a little jealous that Amy has found sexual fulfillment while she has not. As mother and daughter try to rebuild the trust and closeness they once shared, the private secrets of many citizens of Shirley Falls are revealed.
Review: Beautifully bleak. That’s how I would describe Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle.
“Now an OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS Movie on ABC” the cover screams and I quickly think “No good can come from this”. The only Oprah TV movie I’ve actually liked was The Women of Brewster Place and that was over (CRINGE) fifteen years ago.
This book moved me for reasons that I may not be able to articulate. Both mother and daughter, Amy and Isabelle Goodrow, live pretty boring & isolated lives. Isabelle (the mother) goes from work to home. She has no friends, she doesn’t keep in contact with family. She hasn’t managed to quite fit in at her job, a job she’s had for over 15 years. All she has is Amy. Her sole existence is work and Amy.
In the beginning Amy’s existence was the same. She goes from school to home. She has one friend, Stacy, with whom she smokes cigarettes with at lunch. She doesn’t fit in with anyone else. She has no contact with anyone other than her mother. At 16, this is especially hard because this an age where you are curious about everything. You’re on the brink of adulthood, you want to know what life really is…and that’s in any location. So imagine your awakening taking place in a small judgmental town similar to Cheers where everybody knows your name.
So when Amy’s teacher, Mr. Robertson shows her a bit of attention, when he seems to understand her love for poetry, her need to just talk to someone, Amy feels alive. She’s no longer going through the motions. There’s this older man who listens to what she has to say. Who wants to meet with her everyday after school. Who enjoys her company. Who desires her. That’s a powerful thing. It is this new relationship, discovered with Amy in a compromising position, that tears mother and daughter apart.
This is not a book dedicated to a LeTourneau-like story. Mr. Robinson is not the focus of this story. He instead is used to reveal the longings of both these women. It is his presence that finally allows us to see their suffering, to learn their secrets, to reveal the cracks in this relationship.
I liked this book a lot. I like that Strout took her time telling this story, that it just naturally evolved. She hasn’t used tricks. There were no twists and turns…it’s a simple yet well told story about the suffering of two women so close, but so far apart. She peels layer after layer until we see that while these two women love each other, they haven’t developed a close enough relationship to like each other. They’re family but not friends.
The best part of how she does this is her use of the Goodrow women’s community. Their interaction helps define who they are and why for the reader, and helps each character to develop their own sense of self-awareness. Her use of the community , which is so vividly real, and her story of this relationship is a wonderful read.
Lit Snit Verdict: B +