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Amy and Isabelle: A Novelby Elizabeth Strout
Synopses & Reviews
Sixteen-year-old Amy Goodrow and her mother, Isabelle, live in isolation, apart from the other inhabitants of Shirley Falls, and though not physically, apart from each other. Their tepid relationship stumbles along, until Amy is seen in a car cavorting with her math teacher. As Amy falls in love and discovers her sexuality, Isabelle feels shame about the jealousy her daughter's youth and sexuality have awakened in her. Also awakened in Isabelle are the long-suppressed memories of her own indiscretion. Already given to self-imposed isolation from the community, Isabelle retreats from her daughter as well, creating a chasm that neither mother nor daughter seem able to cross. Supporting this powerful family drama is a cast of memorable working-class women reminiscent of Richard Russo's strong female characters. While this may not be original territory, Strout's insight, humor, and expansive storytelling make for an uncommonly complex and poignant study of alienation and resilience. Lilus, Powells.com
With compassion, humor, and striking insight, Amy and Isabelle explores the secrets of sexuality that jeopardize the love between a mother and her daughter. Amy Goodrow, a shy high school student in a small mill town, falls in love with her math teacher, and together they cross the line between understandable fantasy and disturbing reality. When discovered, this emotional and physical trespass brings disgrace to Amy's mother, Isabelle, and intensifies the shame she feels about her own past. In a fury, she lashes out at her daughter's beauty and then retreats into outraged silence. Amy withdraws, too, and mother and daughter eat, sleep, and even work side by side but remain at a vast, seemingly unbridgeable distance from each other.
This conflict is surrounded by other large and small dramas in the town of Shirley Falls--a teenage pregnancy, a UFO sighting, a missing child, and the trials of Fat Bev, the community's enormous (and enormously funny and compassionate) peacemaker and amateur medical consultant. Keeping Isabelle and Amy as the main focus of her sharp, sympathetic eye, Elizabeth Strout attends to them all. As she does so, she reveals not only her deep affection for her characters, both serious and comic, but her profound wisdom about the human condition in general. She makes us care about these extraordinary ordinary people and makes us hope that they will find a way out of their often self-imposed emotional exile.
From the Hardcover edition.
Stories of young women who suffer the sexual advances of an authority figure (in this case, a high school math teacher) seem ubiquitous these days. But in Strout's gently powerful, richly satisfying debut, the damage shows less within the heart of the teenaged girl in question than in the wreckage of the previously tranquil relationship she had enjoyed with her mother. Amy Goodrow, 16, is the shy only child of Isabelle, a single mother. Isabelle's shame over the secret of her daughter's illegitimacy and her hunger for respectability keep her painfully isolated from the community of the New England mill town where she has made her home. Even before Amy's relations with her teacher become known, her beauty and her burgeoning sexuality arouse uncomfortable feelings of competitiveness in Isabelle, as well as dread at the prospect of her daughter's flight from Isabelle's carefully constructed nest. Amy, meanwhile, is in love; Strout lays out her teacher's charms as clearly as his caddishness, and her portrait of a young woman stumbling on the shattering power of lust her own and others' balances delicacy with frankness and breathtaking acuity. In the end, it is Isabelle who stays with the reader; devastated by her daughter's betrayal, riven with regrets over a life left largely unlived, she must somehow make amends to herself. This beautifully nuanced novel steers a course somewhere between the whimsy of Alice Hoffman and the compassionate insight of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller, and is sure to delight fans of all three. Publisher's Weekly
In her stunning first novel, Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout evokes a teenager's alienation from her distant mother—and a parent's rage at the discovery of her daughter's sexual secrets. In most ways, Isabelle and Amy are like any mother and her 16-year-old daughter, a fierce mix of love and loathing exchanged in their every glance. And eating, sleeping, and working side by side in the gossip-ridden mill town of Shirley Falls doesn't help matters. But when Amy is discovered behind the steamed-up windows of a car with her math teacher, the vast and icy distance between mother and daughter becomes unbridgeable.
As news of the scandal reaches every ear, it is Isabelle who suffers from the harsh judgment of Shirley Falls, intensifying her shame about her own secret past. And as Amy seeks comfort elsewhere, she discovers the fragility of human happiness through other dramas, from the horror of a missing child to the trials of Fat Bev, the community peacemaker. Witty and often profound, Amy and Isabelle confirms Elizabeth Strout as a powerful new talent.
When Amy Goodrow, a shy high school student, falls in love with her math teacher, the love affair threatens the intimate relationship between Amy and her mother, Isabelle, whose feelings are influenced by the shame of her own past. A first novel. 100,000 first printing. Reprint.
About the Author
Born in Portland, Maine, Elizabeth Strout now lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. She has been teaching literature and writing at Manhattan Community College for ten years and has also taught writing at the New School. Her fiction has appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker.
From the Hardcover edition.
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