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LUCY by Ellen Feldman

LUCY

By Ellen Feldman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-393-05153-6
Publisher: Norton

Historical about the love affair between FDR and Lucy Mercer, from Lucy’s point of view.

Lucy, whose prominent Catholic family has fallen into genteel poverty, takes a job in 1914 as Eleanor Roosevelt’s social secretary. Franklin is Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the Roosevelts are ensconced in happy if cramped domesticity in Washington. FDR’s ambitions lie just below the surface, while Eleanor’s politics have not yet taken shape—she doesn’t even support women’s suffrage. Lucy idolizes Eleanor, though, and Feldman (God Bless the Child, 1998, etc.), who also writes as Elizabeth Villars, sketches a charming and bittersweet picture of the two rather similar young women sitting on a carpet surrounded by envelopes, their loss of innocence is soon to come. Although a mutual attraction develops between Franklin and Lucy, nothing untoward happens at first. But war looms, Eleanor goes away with the children, and the sexual tension rises. Lucy increasingly describes Eleanor as a socially conscious but personally insensitive wife driving her husband away by not catering adequately to his needs. Finally, Lucy and Franklin consummate their love in a tawdry roadside motel, and he vows to leave Eleanor—who, when she finds a stash of Lucy’s love letters, offers Franklin his freedom. But he places ambition over love and stays put. Lucy shows not the slightest anger over this rejection, although she later views FDR’s polio as God’s punishment to them both. She marries a wealthy older man she professes to love and spends the next 20 years in the lap of luxury. Then, on the eve of WWII, when she brings her ailing husband to Washington for treatment, she and FDR pick up where they left off, more or less (sex is not mentioned), and he dies with Lucy by his side. In this retelling, Franklin comes across as surpassingly selfish, Eleanor as pathetic, and Lucy as annoyingly saintly.

Highly romanticized, oddly apolitical, and not very compelling.