Jennifer Egan in the New York Times wrote:“William” is Lucy’s first husband, William Gerhardt, now 71, a scientist, professor, and the father of her two daughters. A series of crises in William’s life sets the novel in motion: His third wife leaves him without warning, taking their teenage daughter with her; his career begins to peter out; and an ancestry website reveals that he has a half sister living in Maine, a discovery that strongly suggests that his long-dead mother, Catherine — to whom Lucy was very close — abandoned a young daughter to marry William’s father, a German prisoner of war, in the decade after World War II.
In desperation, William turns to Lucy, and in her grief and solitude, she throws herself into helping, agreeing to accompany him (platonically) to Maine to seek out his newly discovered half sister and visit several sites from his mother’s early life. Strout devotees may experience a frisson at Lucy and William’s Maine itinerary, which grazes the fictional locus of “Olive Kittredge” (for which Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009), “Olive Again,” “Amy and Isabelle” and “The Burgess Boys,” the latter of whom are mentioned by name. “Oh William!” wears these connections lightly, but they lend the novel a prickle of cosmic convergence.
Marriage is Strout’s subject in “Oh William!” and she writes about it with brilliance, whether rendering the refuge and deliverance William and his mother provided Lucy from her impoverished childhood, or the tiny offenses that can accrue toxic symbolism in the course of a relationship: the time William took too long eating a bowl of clams when their daughters were young or the fact that the khakis he wears to begin their Maine adventure are ridiculously short.
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