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AMY AND ISABELLE by Elizabeth Strout

AMY AND ISABELLE

By Elizabeth Strout

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-50134-7
Publisher: Random House

A lyrical, closely observant first novel, charting the complex, resilient relationship of a mother and daughter. Isabel Goodrow had settled in the mill town of Shirley Falls when her daughter Amy was an infant, reluctantly admitting to those who asked that both her husband and her parents were dead. Amy has grown up knowing little about her father and, thanks to her closeness to Isabel, also knowing little about the rough give-and-take of life. Now, Amy’s innocence is under assault from various quarters, and her mother finds herself losing touch with the daughter who has been the focus of her existence. Amy, at 16, has a poised, delicate beauty, and finds herself—at first with alarm, then with a barely suppressed excitement—responding to the flirtations of a new teacher. Part of the novel’s power derives from Strout’s ability to set Amy and Isabel’s painful struggles within the larger context of a small town. Some elements of the life there seem timeless: the steady flow of gossip, the invisible but nonetheless rigid social hierarchies, the ancient disruptions of life (illness, adultery, violence). New elements, however, signal a darker time: UFO’s have been sighted, and a young girl is missing and may have been abducted. Strout nicely interweaves these elements within the record of Amy and Isabelle’s increasingly charged relationship. She catches, with an admirable restraint, and particularity, Amy’s emergent sense of self, the wild succession of emotions in adolescence, and Amy’s stunning discovery of sex. She also renders a wonderfully nuanced portrait of Isabelle, a bright, often angry woman who has only imperfectly replaced passion with stoicism. Matters come to a head when Amy and her teacher are discovered in compromising circumstances, and when members of her father’s family suddenly get in touch. In less sure hands, all of this would seem merely melodramatic. But Strout demonstrates exceptional poise, and an uncommon ability to render complex emotions with clarity and a sympathetic intelligence, evoking comparisons with the work of Alice Munro and Anne Tyler. (Author tour)