The Atlantic

When Memories Are True Even When They’re Not

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout discusses Louise Glück’s poem “Nostos” and the powerful way literature can harbor recollection.
Source: Doug McLean

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Colum McCann, George Saunders, Emma Donoghue, Michael Chabon, and more.


In My Name Is Lucy Barton, the bestselling novel Elizabeth Strout published last year, the ailing narrator recalls her childhood with the help of her mother’s stories. Now, in a new book, Anything Is Possible, Strout takes us back to Lucy’s hometown—and we start to learn there’s more to the story. Not that Lucy was necessarily being coy about her traumatic upbringing, which seems to have been worse than she presented. It seems, instead, that some details are too painful for her to access consciously. In one scene in the new book, as her siblings begin discussing a sequence of particularly disturbing family memories, Lucy nearly has a nervous breakdown.

This blurry boundary between memory and the past is one of Strout’s main subjects as a writer, and was the topic of our conversation for this series. With help from a Louise Glück poem, we discussed the way memory works in fiction and how Strout balances objective, factual history with her characters’ more subjective—and sometimes more revealing—recollections. Strout also shared insight into her process, explaining the astonishing way that her own long-gone memories float to the surface as she writes. That experience should be the goal of literature, too, she

Vous lisez un aperçu, inscrivez-vous pour en lire plus.

Plus de The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min de lecturePolitics
A Tiny Island Exposes Europe’s Failures
The investigation into the murder of Malta’s most famous journalist has done more than plunge the country into crisis.
The Atlantic5 min de lecture
The 10 Best Films of 2019
Perhaps fittingly for the end of the decade, 2019 was filled with thoughtful, retrospective works from master filmmakers who cast an eye on the past amid the rapid changes of the present. While veterans like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino wres
The Atlantic3 min de lecturePolitics
The Democrats’ Missed Opportunity on Impeachment
Today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing served to reinforce the partisan divide over President Trump’s conduct rather than challenge it.