The End is Where We Begin

{Finished with Lucy}

Tim: So let’s start with this: What did you think about the ending?

Debby: I was sitting at our local Peet’s Coffee Shop, enjoying the cool evening air (and a delicious caramel macchiato), when I arrived at the end of this novel (novella? It’s short enough to be in that category, almost). I interrupted my reading buddy, Laura, to dramatically read the last paragraph aloud. It was THAT absurd. What a ridiculous way to end this book. I don’t understand it, like it, want it. I thought the entire last chapter was distorted, giving everything before it a vicious slant that spoke to the darkness of Lucy’s character, rather than the genuine and attentive person she truly was. I think the author took a lot of qualities that a young woman should pursue with zeal and twisted them into something deeply isolating. In summary: I was insanely frustrated by the ending.

Tim: I think I arrived at mostly the same conclusion by a very slightly different path. For me, the last chapter felt like a very natural extension of the rest of the book, absurd though it sometimes seemed to be. As the book progresses, we more and more see Lucy as a spiteful and unfeeling person. The directness she takes with others goes from seeming a cultural artifact to a personal one. Even when she’s talking about the people she “loves” – the children, Mariah – she tosses them to the side so easily. I actually didn’t quite buy that she was at a point where she was ready to collapse in emotion like she did at the end of the book. The first half of the book had me intrigued. The second half, especially the last quarter, felt like it wasted my time.

Debby: Hang on. I want to argue one of your points real quick. I don’t think Lucy is “spiteful and unfeeling.” I think she is spiteful because she doesn’t want to feel. She shuts out anything and everything that reminds her of home, of her mother, etc. The memories we glimpse of her past are all tinged with anger or frustration, because that is NOT what she wants her life to look like. She doesn’t want her future to be attached to her past.

Tim: Well, yes, I meant unfeeling in that she consciously shuts others out. It may be to cover up stuff that’s painful, but even in those glimpses of her past we see, there are reasons to be angry, but not reasons to be so aggressively antagonistic to everything that has to do with that life. She talks a lot towards the end about things that would have killed her if she let them in, and I see this a lot more as weakness in her character than a genuinely traumatic series of events she’s had to shut out. The stuff she lets us in on is never that bad. Again, I think she’s just a mean person. Maybe the end of the book is supposed to make me sympathetic, but it was very, very difficult for me to care about Lucy after seeing the way she disposed of so many people.

Debby: Wow. I saw her past quite differently. Her mother named her after Lucifer??

Tim: Ok, but do you really believe that was her namesake and not just something a frustrated mother said and regretted?

Debby: That thought literally never crossed my mind. I’m trying to remember if we are ever explicitly told when her mother became pregnant, but we do know that her father was the sperm donor on at least THIRTY children. Lucy specifically acknowledges that her mother married him for the peace of mind of having a secure relationship, even though it was to a crummy man who carried a ton of baggage (includes crazy, murderous ex-girlfriends). My assumption was that she got pregnant, tried to get rid of the pregnancy (which she explicitly teaches to Lucy at a young age) and failed. That is just about the worst predicament a woman can be in. Lucy despises her mother for “[throwing] away her intelligence” (p.123) and submitting to the culturally acceptable safety net of marriage and homemaking. Lucy’s birth was a spite to any dream her mother might have had, her very own devil.

Tim: I go back to an idea we’ve already talked about some, that Lucy isn’t a reliable narrator. I believe the facts that can be pulled from the stories she tells, but not her interpretation of the information. We also know that Lucy’s mother loved her pretty unconditionally – despite some very mean words and actions from Lucy, her mother continues to pursue and look after her. We’re also told that Lucy’s mother never envisioned anything higher than a nursing job for Lucy, that she couldn’t imagine her daughter as a doctor. Given the time and culture her mother would have grown up in, that seems reasonable, and it would have colored her own dreams as well. I still argue that none of this merits the vitriol Lucy expresses towards her upbringing and to the majority of the people in her life. She could have kept up a loving relationship with her mother and pursued medicine on her own terms if she were so inclined. We see repeatedly how Lucy uses people and rarely seems to attach much emotional weight to her relationships. Some of this may be motivated by her past, but can we agree that she’s carried those “lessons” way too far?

Debby: I agree that she takes everything to the extreme. But I don’t think Lucy is as inaccurate a narrator as you seem to believe. In that same passage I was referring to, Lucy states, “I am not like my mother. She and I are not alike… She should not have thrown away her intelligence. She should not have paid so little attention to mine.” (p.123) I think those two statements are deeply connected. She sees her mother as a passionate, commanding, god-like individual who was only subdued by the fact that she had a lousy husband and too many mouths to feed. Her mother submitted to her own fate– a fate that Lucy refused to incline herself to.

Tim: Sure, I agree with that. And we may be rapidly approaching “Agree to disagree” territory, but for me that never adds up to the anger and hate Lucy expresses not only to her mother but to many people in her life. Those are perhaps catalysts for the action which the book captures, but the ending – where Lucy is completely isolated – seems like a gross personal overreaction to issues which she could have overcome by taking similar action but just being nicer about everything. And I hate even using that word because I’m not sure “nice” is necessarily that important. But Lucy doesn’t interact with people symbiotically once in the book. She uses people, and she comes by something approaching a real relationship only when people get past these outrageous defenses by accident.

Debby: The thing is? I don’t think Lucy truly hates anyone but herself. I think she sees her own failures and places them in a context where they reverse into successes. The more she isolates herself, the more superior she can feel to the rest of society. The more she criticizes her mother, the further she feels she can distance herself from becoming the same person. I think this book captures a very specific “point” in a young woman’s life: the point in which you try so hard not to be all the things you despise in others, that you cross into a self-created isolation. Lucy weeds out all feeling, so as not to feel specific ones. I don’t think she’ll stay on her island. I don’t think anybody truly can. But I do think a lot of people need to feel that separation in order to reassess the value of community, and the security that comes from relationships with others (no matter the level of “falseness” one might feel).

Tim: Ok, if you want to say she “behaves hatefully” rather than “is hateful” I have no issue with that. I agree that it does go back to a lot of deep-seated personal insecurity. The degree to which she isolates herself and the methods undertaken to do so I find to be extreme. Over the course of the first half of the book, especially, these were just beginning to be revealed, and so I found her to be interesting. It was the full revelation of the nature of these qualities that eventually grew repulsive, and I think that’s exactly what we’re saying – her approach to self-actualization is a matter of several important degrees further than most go.

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