Why this book? Because I finished it this week. And also because it's wonderful (thank you, Will Kuby). Amy and Isabelle is Elizabeth Strout's 1998 novel and it's even better than her later, Pulitzer Prize-winning story cycle Olive Kitteridge. (Much as I love Adventures in Babysitting, I imagine it's also better than the Oprah TV movie adaptation with Elisabeth Shue.)
The novel opens in Shirley Falls, a college-mill town in Maine, circa 1970. Amy is the sheltered, rule-following daughter of Isabelle, herself a rule-following single mom who works as a secretary at the local mill. They are different from everyone else in Shirley Falls -- not Carrie different, just somewhat outside the various social circles of the town -- bound together in their odd little family of two. But Amy is a teenager now, with undeniably beautiful hair, and the older she gets, the looser their bond becomes.
It's a pretty simple set-up, but Strout finds remarkable depths in both characters, as well as a handful of others who populate the town. These are people who don't communicate terribly well -- with each other or with anyone else -- but that hardly stops Strout from communicating their story with intelligence and an almost heroic sense of sympathy. Like Olive Kitteridge, Isabelle Goodrow is something of a cold Protestant fish -- but cold fish are never warmer than in the fiction of Elizabeth Strout.
author of The Violet Hour, reader, prodigious eater of ice cream