Amy and Isabelle

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January 15, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Amy is a hormonally and emotionally confused 16-year-old trapped in a small mill town; Isabelle is her mother, a repressed woman who has raised her daughter on her own. During the long hot summer that is the setting for Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel Amy and Isabelle, they are physically close — crammed together in the small quarters of the mill office — but psychologically alone; estranged from each other and the people who surround them (people like jolly Fat Bev and hysterectomy survivor Dottie, Isabelle’s coworkers; Avery Clark, Isabelle’s neurasthenic boss; and Stacy, Amy’s apparently pregnant lunchtime smoking partner). See, both Amy and Isabelle have a secret, and the gradual exposure of that which is hidden forms the essence of the narrative. Amy’s secret belongs to her recent past, the school year gone by, and a certain substitute math teacher, while Isabelle’s belongs to a time many years ago and a certain visiting family friend, but they are linked by the common thread of desire twined with shame. Ultimately, the secrets aren’t hard to guess, nor are they particularly original; it’s the affecting portrayal of the ties between mother and daughter, along with the sympathetically drawn characters, that make the book stand out. There is no doubting the central point — ”All the love in the world couldn’t prevent the awful truth: You passed on who you were” — but in Strout’s sure hands, that truth isn’t awful but, in fact, revelatory. A-

Amy and Isabelle

type
Book
Genre
author
Elizabeth Strout
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Amy and Isabelle

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