Keeping Lucy – T. Greenwood

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood is not the sort of book I would have ever picked on my own to read. Apparently it was inspired by “incredible true events” and while I don’t doubt the novel’s sincerity, there were just too many schmaltzy or wtf moments for me to invest in any of the characters.

Ginny Richardson and her husband Abbott (Ab because he father is Abbott, too) have just welcomed their second child into the world, a daughter they call Lucy. After the delivery, Ginny is told that Lucy has a “condition [that] comes with many, many challenges” including “Heart defects, hearing and vision problems, Thyroid malfunctions.” Ginny is informed that

She’s mongoloid. Which means severe mental retardation. She’ll be feeble-minded, no more intelligent than a dog. The hardship she will bring to your family – women never realize the impact that raising an imbecile has on a marriage. On the other children. You must think of your son.

Okay, sure, it’s 1969, but it’s as if Ginny has no agency of her own. By the time she recovers from giving birth, Lucy has been sent to Willowridge, a “special” school where her particular problems can be looked after. The party line is that Lucy died during delivery and no one but her closest friend, Marsha, her mother and her in-laws know the truth. Ginny returns to her life as mom to her son and wife to her lawyer husband and long days of deciding what to serve for dinner and making sure the house is sparkling when Ab gets home.

Then, two years after Lucy is born, Marsha drops a bombshell. There’s been an exposé about Willowridge. The reporter visited the facility undercover and discovered

the bathrooms without stalls. The sleeping quarters’ walls smeared with human waste. The kitchen with its cockroaches. As she read about the vats of slop meant to pass as sustenance, as food, her stomach turned. […] Broken elevators filled with dirty laundry. Sewage spills. And the children. God, the children huddled into corners. Alone.

Although Ginny has never once visited her daughter, passive enough to believe her husband when he tells her that Lucy is better off where she is, she is mortified by these articles and she insists that Ab do something. Ab can’t though because his father is representing the school in several class action law suits. Ginny decides, with Marsha’s help, to go see for herself. What she discovers is so appalling that she kidnaps Lucy and they, along with her son Peyton, now six, and Marsha head to Florida to try to come up with a plan.

I know that we are supposed to admire Ginny’s maternal instincts and her overwhelming desire to rescue Lucy from what are clearly deplorable conditions, but I just kept shaking my head. You know how sometimes things take you out of a story – there were several instances of that in this book. For example, they stop for food and Ginny buys hamburgers and milkshakes for her children. Her two year daughter who has Down syndrome and has been institutionalized since birth is going to chow down on a McDouble and a shake? Say what? When they stop at Marsha’s aunt’s house for the night, it is described first as “a big farmhouse with plenty of rooms” and when they drive up the driveway suddenly it’s “a small cabin”, which she’d built herself. Stuff like this drives me crazy and I notice it a lot more when I am not invested in the book.

My brothers and I were all born in the 60s. I can’t imagine my mother ever letting any one of us be taken away and placed in an institution. I know things were different, I get it, but Ginny was such a frustrating character to me. When she and Ab meet they have such big plans and suddenly Ab is working for his dad and Ginny is relegated to the role of haus frau. depending on the allowance Ab gives her to run the household. She doesn’t drive; she doesn’t know how to use a credit card; she seems as innocent of the world as Lucy. Except it doesn’t take long for Lucy to be learning words and calling Ginny “momma”.

Keeping Lucy is treacle-y sweet and, while it was easy to read, I just didn’t like it.

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