Amy and Isabelle

by Elizabeth Strout

Continuing the recent trend of reading books about mother-daughter relationships, I picked up Amy and Isabelle because I liked the cadence of the title, and found myself in a slow novel, not in the plodding sense of the word, but in the sense that this was a story of gradual emergence.

The book opens on a hot summer day in an office where there is no air conditioning, and while the period is never specified, the mention of typewriters and and lack of computers, or even any specific office supply other than such things as legal pads and Papermate pens puts us in the late sixties to early seventies.

We are introduced to both characters, Amy, the teenaged daughter of single mother Isabelle, within the first few pages, and while the rest of the novel does peel away their layers – Isabelle was raped by a family friend, never married, and has an unrequited crush on the boss, while Amy is discovering sex and lust and is openly attracted to her substitute math teacher – I never got past the feeling of wanting the story to really BEGIN.

It’s a slow tale, of people who live slow, quiet lives, and while the details are impeccable, I was left unsatisfied. Some undefinable “something’ is missing from Strout’s work.