Likely Stories : Oh, William!, by Elizabeth Strout

Dec 30, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Elizabeth Strout has a number of excellent novels of love and death, danger and pleasure.  Oh William! Is her latest effort.  She is a New York Times bestselling author with numerous awards including Olive Kitteridge which awarded her a Pulitzer Prize.  Another of her fine novels is My Name is Lucy Barton.  She is also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize. 


This story is rather peculiar, in that the main character is quite reserved, and her feelings are spread all over in sporadic reminisces.  Elizabeth begins, “I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. // William has lately been through some very sad events—many of us have—but I would like to mention them, it feels almost a compulsion; he is seventy-one years old now. // My second husband, David, died last year, and in my grief for him I have felt grief for William as well.  Grief is such a—oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think.  It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you. // But it is William I want to speak of here. // His name is William Gerhardt, and when we married I took his last name, even though at the time it was not fashionable to do so” (3). 

To continue, “My college roommate said, ‘Lucy, you’re taking his name?  I thought you were a feminist.’  And I told her I did not care about being a feminist; I do not want to be me anymore.  At that time I felt that I was tired of being me, I had spent my whole life not wanting to be me—this is what I thought then—and so I took his name and became Lucy Gerhardt for eleven years, but it did not feel right to me, and almost immediately after William’s mother died I went to the motor vehicle place to get my own name back on my driver’s license, even though it was more difficult than I had thought it would be; I had to go back and bring in some court documents; but I did. //I became Lucy Barton again” (4).  Lucy has a difficult time staying attached to her companions.

Lucy offers a ‘visual’: Recently William’s lab assistant had taken to calling William ‘Einstein,’ and William seemed to get a real kick out of that one.  I do not think William looks like Einstein at all, but I take the young woman’s point.  William has a very full mustache with gray in its whiteness, but it is sort of trimmed mustache and his hair is full of white.  It is cut, but it does not stick out from his head.  He is a tall man, and he dresses very well.  And he doesn’t have that vaguely crazy look that Einstein, to my mind, seemed to have” (5).

Elizabeth Stroud’s latest offering, Oh William!,  is a story of a woman who finds it difficult to understand her ex-husband.  Lucy has some similar problems on her end.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!