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Oh William!
Cover of Oh William!
Oh William!
A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they’ve come from—and what they’ve left behind. 

LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement.”—Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. 

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are. 
So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout’s “perfect attunement to the human condition.” There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we’ve grown apart. 
At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.”
 
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Time, Vulture, She Reads
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they’ve come from—and what they’ve left behind. 

LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement.”—Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. 

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are. 
So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout’s “perfect attunement to the human condition.” There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we’ve grown apart. 
At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.”
 
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Time, Vulture, She Reads
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About the Author-
  • Elizabeth Strout is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Olive, Again; Anything Is Possible, winner of the Story Prize; My Name Is Lucy Barton; The Burgess Boys; Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 2, 2021
    Loneliness and betrayal, themes to which the Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout has returned throughout her career, are ever present in this illuminating character-driven saga, the third in her Amgash series, after Anything Is Possible. Narrated by Lucy Barton, now a successful writer, the story picks up after the death of Lucy’s second husband as she navigates her relationship with her unfaithful first husband, William, the father of her two grown daughters. Lucy and William are still close friends, and though William has also remarried, he still needs Lucy, and she him. When William discovers he has a half sister, he summons Lucy, rather than his current wife, to visit where she lives in Maine. Lucy’s quest—indeed Strout’s quest—is to understand people, even if she can’t stand them. “We are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries, is what I mean,” she reflects. The strength of Lucy’s voice carries the reader, and Strout’s characters teem with angst and emotion, all of which Strout handles with a mastery of restraint and often in spare, true sentences. “But when I think Oh William! don’t I mean Oh Lucy! too? Don’t I mean Oh Everyone, Oh dear Everybody in this whole wide world, we do not know anybody, not even ourselves! Except a little tiny, tiny bit we do.” It’s not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency.

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2021
    Pulitzer Prize winner Strout offers a third book linked to writer Lucy Barton, this time reflecting on her complex relationship with her first husband, before and after their divorce. While Anything Is Possible (2017) told the stories of people among whom Lucy grew up in poverty in Amgash, Illinois, this new novel returns to the direct address of My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016). Lucy's beloved second husband, David, has recently died, and "in my grief for him I have felt grief for William as well," she tells us. Her stuttering, stop-and-start narrative drops this and other pronouncements and then moves on, circling back later to elucidate and elaborate. After the pain of their separation subsided, Lucy and William became friends, close enough so that when he begins having night terrors at age 69, he confides in Lucy rather than his much younger third wife. (Wife No. 2 was among the many infidelities that broke up his marriage to Lucy.) Perhaps it's because the terrors are related to his mother, Catherine, who "seemed central to our marriage," Lucy tells us. "We loved her. Oh, we loved her." Well, sometimes; Lucy's memories reveal a deep ambivalence. Catherine patronized her, referring frequently to the poverty of Lucy's background and her unfamiliarity with the ways of more affluent people. So it's a shock to Lucy as well as William when he learns that his mother was married before, abandoned a baby daughter to marry his father, and came from a family even poorer than Lucy's. Their road trip to Maine prompts William's habitual coping mechanism of simply checking out, being present but not really there, which is the real reason Lucy left him. Strout's habitual themes of loneliness and the impossibility of ever truly knowing another person are ubiquitous in this deeply sad tale, which takes its title from Lucy's head-shaking acknowledgment that her ex will never change, cannot change the remoteness at the core of his personality. Another skillful, pensive exploration of Strout's fundamental credo: "We are all mysteries."

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2021
    Pulitzer Prize winner Strout (Olive, Again, 2019) returns for a third time to her beloved character, Lucy Barton, now 63. Lucy begins with typical directness. She wants to say a few things about her first husband, William, who is approaching 70. They have remained friendly, post-divorce, and he turns to her when his third wife leaves him. Lucy agrees to accompany him on a trip to Maine to investigate a disconcerting discovery that rearranges both of their understandings about his mother. Lucy reflects on her life with and without him: her bleak childhood, his affairs, her abandonment of their marriage and children, her happy second marriage. Strout aims to explore the mystery of how people become who they are. In a moving metaphor, Lucy compares William and herself to Hansel and Gretel, lost in the woods, looking for the bread crumbs that could lead them home. But even now, in their senior years, they're lost, a mystery to each other and to themselves. The way ahead remains unknown and frightening. When Lucy thinks, "Oh William!" she knows she also means, "Oh Lucy!" and, with tenderest sympathy and empathy, "Oh Everyone!" A masterful, wise, moving, and ultimately uplifting meditation on human existence.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Strout's latest wry and affecting inquiry into the hidden depths of quiet lives via one of her beloved recurring characters will be catnip for her fans and all lovers of refined, resonant fiction.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 24, 2021

    Pulitzer Prize winner Strout creates characters so developed, so human and flawed, that readers might feel frustrated with them, as one would with a friend or family member. First seen in My Name Is Lucy Barton, the protagonist here is a successful author, though one would never know it from her demeanor. Lucy considers herself invisible despite being well known for her writings, which include a memoir about her difficult upbringing. Lucy often refers to parts of her life that she's covered in past books, but readers don't have access to them, only Lucy's current observations. Lucy is recently widowed, having lost her second husband, David, the man she found later in life after a lengthy marriage and two children with the titular William. David was her true love, the family she chose for herself, yet she agrees to accompany William on an exploration of his past, whether from old feelings or a sense of obligation. As Lucy and William travel from New York to Maine, readers learn about their marriage, daughters, and dynamic. VERDICT A fine examination of relationships that asks how well one can know someone, even after years together, but it's sometimes hard to connect to the narrative. William is rather awful, which might leave readers wondering why so many women's lives revolve around such men. Perhaps that is Strout's point.--Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll., VA

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A Novel
Elizabeth Strout
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