Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout


Reading this book, I imagine warm browns, bleached blue and seventies orange. It has a faded, melancholy feel to it that captures a very specific moment in time, like a Polaroid or room in a grandmother’s house. It’s a small and self-contained book- a summer of events. But it is special at the same time.

A mother and daughter live on the genteel edge of an American Rust Belt town. Isabelle, a respectable, prim secretary in the office of a mill, is simmering with fury at adolescent daughter Amy. Amy is dreamy and intense, desperate for meaning and experiences in the wider world.

Stroud fuses together the minutiae of he domestic- Amy currently consigned to cooking dinner every night in penance- but also broader universal truths. It’s also about friendships, teenage sexuality, economic decline and class.

Similarly, Stroud also evokes great feeling through tiny actions or details. I cringe with pity at Isabelle’s pretensions of respectability like her Readers Digest obsession or hours spent making her boss dessert. I rail at Amy’s naivety around men and cliched teenage rebellions. It is  their relationship, of love mingled with deep disdain and anger with all those nuances, that is the powerful core of this domestic drama.

Read: When your mum gets under your skin

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