Study Guide

Lucy: A Novel

Lucy: A Novel Summary

Nineteen-year old Lucy is really far from home. Originally from the West Indies, Lucy has just gotten to the U.S. to start her new job as an au pair (that's a fancy French word for babysitter). She fills us readers in on the details of her plan: she'll be working for Mariah and Lewis, a couple with four young girls, and staying in their ritzy apartment while she takes classes at night.

Life in the U.S. is hardly the barrel of monkeys Lucy had imagined. (Wait, why not a barrel of kangaroos? That'd be fun, right?... But we digress.) On top of battling a case of homesickness, she soon finds that living with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country turns out to be a recipe for misunderstandings and awkward moments.

When spring rolls around, Lucy accompanies Mariah and the kids to the family's lake house. Lucy starts to notice marital trouble brewing when Lewis joins them a bit later. While they're at the lake house, Mariah throws a party in the hopes that Lucy can meet some new friends. At the party she meets Hugh and the two have sex, which results in a pregnancy scare.

Things between Mariah and Lewis start to get ugly. Not only are the two bickering up a storm, Lewis is having an affair with Mariah's best friend Dinah (cue dramatic soap opera music). At the end of the summer, Lucy and the family leave the lake house and return to the apartment where Mariah's and Lewis's marriage continues to deteriorate.

Encouraged by Mariah, Lucy develops an interest in photography and art. Her friend Peggy takes her to a party with a bunch of artist types (and a whole lot of marijuana), where she meets a dude named Paul. Paul and Lucy hit it off and, despite Peggy's warnings that this guy is no good, they begin a very, um, sexually adventurous relationship.

Itching for a change, Lucy begins making plans to get an apartment with Peggy. Mariah and Lewis decide to split up (no surprise there). Lucy also gets some bad news when she learns that her father has died and left her mother totally broke.

The news of her father's death motivates Lucy to work up enough nerve to quit her babysitting job and move out of Mariah and Lewis's place. She and Peggy become roomies and Lucy takes a job as a secretary for a photographer. Her love life cools off a bit as she begins to get sick of Paul and his possessive ways.

So Lucy's new independent life means a happy ending, right? Not so much, actually. Lucy feels lonelier than ever. The poor girl is even in tears at the very end, writing in her journal about how much she wishes she could have more love in her life. It's a downer of an ending (you've been warned), no Cinderella story here.

  • Chapter 1: Poor Visitor

    • It's Lucy's first day. Her first day of what? Well, we're not sure yet.
    • Lucy recalls coming from the airport the previous night, looking around at all the cool buildings, parks, and bridges she'd always dreamed about.
    • Back to the first day. Lucy gets up and gets dressed. Even though it's the middle of January, it seems weird to her that it's cold out when the sun is shining.
    • See, Lucy's just come from a tropical climate so she doesn't exactly associate sun with below-freezing temperatures. She realizes a wardrobe change is in order.
    • Aww, Lucy feels homesick.
    • We learn that Lucy is staying in the maid's quarters, a small room with high ceilings. And we finally find out that her new job is to watch the kids who live in the apartment. She's going to be one busy girl because she also plans to go to school at night.
    • Zzzzz. Lucy is sleeping on the job already. She turns on the radio on her dresser, starts singing along, promptly falls asleep and has a dream about, of all things, her old nightgown.
    • Wake up! Another maid stands over her trying to wake her. Lucy tells us this maid doesn't like her to begin with and Lucy's cat nap certainly hasn't helped matters.
    • We don't hear anything more about how the big first day went. We can presume some time passes because Lucy jumps into describing her routine of taking care of the four little girls in the family during the day and going to school at night.
    • It's pretty much all work and no play for Lucy so it's no big surprise that she tells us she's not happy.
    • However, Lucy isn't about to let everyone back home know that she's miserable. No way. She writes and tells them how awesome her new life is.
    • After the maid tries to get Lucy to dance to some music she thinks is pretty lame, Lucy sings a calypso song about a runaway. FYI: Calypso is a style of music with origins in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago (check out a calypso beat set to this familiar tune).
    • We learn a bit about the family for whom Lucy works. Lewis and Mariah are the parents of the four girls Lucy looks after. Lucy is pretty impressed by their permissive parenting. She thinks it's cool that he kids don't have to eat everything on their plate and that they're allowed to say "bad" words.
    • Oh, and don't even think about telling any blond jokes around this family: all six of them have golden locks.
    • They call Lucy "the Visitor." Lewis even goes so far as to call her the Poor Visitor because she doesn't seem to laugh or smile that much (note: this family smiles and laughs a lot).
    • At dinner one night, Lewis tells a story about his uncle. While Lewis is telling his tale, Lucy's mind wanders and she recalls an erotic dream she had involving Lewis and Mariah.
    • After Lewis finishes his story, Lucy tells them about her dream. Awkward!
    • Lewis and Mariah laugh uncomfortably. Lucy is pretty confused though because she thinks it's a total compliment to them since she only dreams about people who are important to her.
  • Chapter 2: Mariah

    • Spring forward: it's now March.
    • Lucy recalls a day earlier in the month when Mariah was totally psyched to introduce Lucy to Spring with all of its blooming daffodils.
    • Daffodils?! It turns out that Lucy hates daffodils. Wait, that's putting it mildly. She absolutely despises them. See, she has this traumatic memory of having to memorize and recite a poem about daffodils when she was in school, which she tells Mariah all about.
    • Attention, please: we interrupt this scintillating Plot Summary to tell you that some bookish readers have speculated that the trauma-inducing poem Lucy had to recite is William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." (Lucy herself never specifies the title.) Even if you're not as freaked out by daffodils as Lucy is, you may be freaked out by the rapping reindeer in this rendition of the poem.
    • Talk about keeping your family and friends close: Lucy tells us that she carries letters from home inside her bra wherever she goes.
    • We learn about Lucy's relationship with her mother and a former schoolmate who was possessed by the Devil. Yikes!
    • And we learn a whole lot more about Mariah and Lucy's impressions of her.
    • Lucy tells us about the day that the weather was finally good enough for the family to take the train to the lake house, something Mariah had been super excited to do.
    • Before they take off, Mariah has a surprise for Lucy. She blindfolds her and takes her to a garden. She takes the blindfold off and daffodils are everywhere.
    • Is this some twisted joke? Has Mariah forgotten how freaked out daffodils make Lucy?
    • Lucy lashes out at Mariah. They walk home "in silence."
    • Mariah, Lucy, and the kids leave for the lake house (Lewis stays behind). They ride the train, but Lucy doesn't find it to be anywhere as exciting as it looks in the movies.
    • Whew, it's such a long journey that they don't even arrive until the next morning.
    • When they get off the train, they're met by a dude, Gus, who Mariah has known since she was little.
    • Gus drives everybody to the house where Mariah grew up. Lucy admits that the house is pretty rad, but she doesn't want Mariah to think she's too excited about it. She knows that Mariah wants her to be excited about it, but Lucy is not going to please her because that's how she rolls.
    • Mariah catches a fish in the lake near the house, which reminds Lucy of an encounter she had with her own mother. She tells Mariah about the encounter and Mariah seems confused.
    • Mariah tells Lucy that the reason she's so awesome at hunting and fishing is that she has Indian blood inside of her.
    • Huh? Lucy is skeptical of her claim and she wonders why Mariah felt the need to tell her this info.
    • Mariah tries to smooth things over by giving Lucy a hug, but Lucy isn't having it. Yet another awkward moment ensues.
  • Chapter 3: The Tongue

    • Steamy alert: Lucy recalls her first experiments with French kissing when she was fourteen. Actually, the anecdote is a lot more humorous than steamy.
    • Lucy feeds Miriam, the youngest of the kids. Miriam is less than thrilled with the menu of stewed plums and yogurt, but Lucy tries her best to entice her to eat by telling her that eating the slop will give her magical powers.
    • It's the beginning of the summer, Lucy tells us, and she, Mariah, and the kids are still hanging out at the lake house where Mariah grew up. Lewis has decided to grace them with his presence.
    • As Lucy continues to feed Miriam, she watches Mariah at the kitchen sink. She notices how old Mariah looks.
    • Lewis comes into the room and starts making out with Mariah. Lucy thinks that neither of them really seems that into it and that they're just putting on a big show.
    • Lucy lets us in on some of her impressions of Lewis as she continues to watch Mariah and Lewis.
    • Ring-ring. It's Mariah's friend Dinah on the phone calling to remind her about a picnic benefit thing for the endangered marshland.
    • The sight of Mariah and Lewis making out has reminded Lucy of the French kissing recollections that opened the chapter. That, in turn, leads her to think about some more of her early sexual experiences.
    • We get a glimpse of Lucy's average day at the lake house as she makes lunch for the kids and then walks them through the woods to get to the lake. The thought of walking through the woods reminds Lucy of home and she shares a few memories of her mother.
    • Lucy tells us that one day after she'd gotten to the lake with the kids, they saw Mariah's friend Dinah. Lucy is not a fan of Dinah.
    • Dinah is happy to see the kids, but she pretty much ignores Lucy.
    • Lucy thinks about how Mariah reminds her of her mother.
    • Before she went away to the lake house, Lucy tells us, she had made a friend named Peggy. Mariah originally thought Peggy was a bad influence, but she notices that Lucy misses her. So Mariah decides to throw a party in the hopes that Lucy can make some new friends.
    • Party time! Dinah brings her brother Hugh to the party. Right off the bat, Lucy is totally into this guy.
    • Lucy and Hugh go outside to a secluded area to "talk." No, seriously, they do talk. . .for a few minutes before they start making out. And we're talking serious making out: before we know it, they're both naked.
    • Okay, so it's not completely spelled out what these two actually do out there on the lawn. But Lucy almost immediately starts worrying that she may be pregnant so ... well, you figure it out.
    • Lucy decides to chill out and not to stress too much about the possibility that she might become a teen mom.
    • Mariah is really into saving the marshland from developers who want to build on it, Lucy tells us.
    • Lucy also reports that Lewis is pretty annoyed that some animals are eating up the vegetable garden he set up. He thinks that the culprits are a family of rabbits that Mariah and the kids have been inviting up to the house.
    • One night at dinner, Mariah and Lewis get into an argument about the bunnies and Lewis totally flips out.
    • Miriam starts to bawl and Lucy tries to comfort the poor kid. Then she takes the all of the kids up to her room to play cards.
    • A few days later, Mariah and Lewis leave to go to the marshlands. Shortly after they pull out of the driveway, Lewis runs over a rabbit.
    • Way to go, Dad. The kids are super upset.
    • They bury the rabbit in a ceremony. A ceremony for a rabbit? Seriously? Lucy thinks that's pretty lame and doesn't attend.
    • Mariah is miffed at Lewis because she, of course, thinks that he intentionally killed the rabbit despite his adamant denials.
    • One day, Dinah stops by. Lucy notices that Lewis seems to light up at the sight of her. Hmm, Lucy's suspicions are aroused.
    • After a while, Mariah and Lucy leave the room together, but Lucy goes back in to get something she forgot.
    • Suspicions confirmed: Lucy walks in to see Lewis and Dinah making out.
    • Lewis's indiscretions remind Lucy of her own father's very colorful sexual history.
    • Lucy tells us that a month before she left the lake, she "said goodbye to everything." Will she miss the lake? Not a bit, she tells us. What about Hugh? Nope, she won't miss him either.
    • During her final make-out session with Hugh, Lucy thinks about some of her other kissing experiences.
  • Chapter 4: Cold Heart

    • Lucy stands at a window inside Lewis and Mariah's apartment. She looks across the street into a luxurious apartment and thinks about how great it would be to live there.
    • She's all alone. Mariah and Lewis took the kids apple picking. Sure, they all looked so jolly before they left on their outing, Lucy reflects, but she's pretty sure there's trouble brewing.
    • Lucy waits for Peggy to call and tell her what time they should get together to hang out in the park and check out guys, their Sunday afternoon ritual.
    • Ugh, Sundays. Lucy just hates them.
    • Thinking about how much she hates Sundays leads her to thinking about her home and her mother. She tells us that her mother's written her a ton of letters, but she hasn't opened any of them.
    • Peggy shows up at the apartment. She and Lucy go to the park, but can't find any dudes worthy of their time and so they each head home.
    • Curled up in bed, Lucy has a bunch of random thoughts. First, she reflects on the summer.
    • Then she thinks about how she's decided not to keep going to school at night and that she's not going to try to become a nurse.
    • Ouch: lately Lucy has been having killer headaches, she tells us. This gets her to thinking about her mother, who's also had bad headaches.
    • And then Lucy contemplates how she and Peggy don't have much in common. She observes that Peggy doesn't like museums like she does.
    • Lucy goes to a party with Peggy in a dank, creepy building. The party is filled with artists who are high on marijuana. Lucy joins in and partakes in the pot smoking, too.
    • At the party, Lucy meets a guy named Paul. Uh-oh, Peggy warned her that this dude is a pervert. But Lucy is nevertheless totally attracted to him.
    • Lucy flirts with Paul, which gets Peggy steaming mad. Peggy tries to dissuade Lucy from pursuing Paul by telling her that he has a small penis. That should be a dealbreaker, right?
    • Not for Lucy. She finds the silver lining of a small penis: it will fit perfectly in her mouth.
    • Lucy watches Paul as he reaches into a fish tank to retrieve someone's lost earring. Wow, this party is pretty wild.
    • Speaking of wild, the sight of Paul's hands reminds Lucy of a very wild story about a girl back home and a man named Mr. Thomas.
    • A short time later, Peggy and Lucy start talking about getting a place together. Peggy can't stand living with her family and Lucy wants to have a life outside of working for Mariah's family.
    • Lucy thinks about Mariah, which then causes her to think about her own mother. And her thoughts eventually wander to a babysitter she once had named Maude Quick who took delight in torturing her.
    • Update on Mariah and Lewis from Lucy: things are pretty stormy. The two are arguing a lot, and Mariah is often in tears.
    • One day when she and Mariah were sitting in the kitchen, Lucy tells us, they began talking about sex.
    • Basically, Lucy's sex life is hot and Mariah's is not. Lucy revealed to Mariah that she's having non-stop sex with Paul. Mariah tells her that the sex with Lewis is terrible.
    • Bad sex? Lucy never imagined there could be such a thing!
    • A letter from Lucy's mother arrives that says Urgent on it. Lucy tears it open, right? Nope. She just throws it on top of her enormous collection of unopened letters from her mom.
    • Lucy has really been getting into photography lately so she buys a camera.
    • She gets more than a camera at the store when she ends up sleeping with the dude who sold it to her.
    • After she leaves the dude's place, she goes to meet Paul at his place. She kisses him and feels kind of guilty. He tells her he loves her. Lucy kisses him extra hard. Uh-oh. Maybe that was a bad idea, she thinks, because he might take it to mean that she loves him back.
    • One day Lucy returns from a walk with the children to the apartment where Lewis and Mariah are sitting together. Mariah looks like she's been crying.
    • Photo time! Lucy takes a picture of them for some weird reason (even she admits she doesn't know what she was thinking).
    • Lewis gets up and leaves.
    • Mariah tells Lucy that she's going to ask Lewis to leave. Permanently.
    • One night, Lucy lies in her bed looking around at all the photos she's taken and hung up on her wall.
    • Knock, knock. Mariah comes into the room. Lucy's got company.
    • Lucy goes out to the living room to find that monstrous babysitter from her past, Maude Quick.
    • Maude hands Lucy a letter from her mother. Before Lucy can open it, Maude blurts out that father died of a heart attack a month ago.
    • Lucy's mother wants her to come home, Maude tells her. Lucy doesn't reply.
    • Awkward hug time: Maude embraces Lucy and leaves.
    • Lucy opens the letter from her mother, which basically says what Maude already told her. But there's something else: Lucy's mother adds that her father's death has left her broke because he died owing a ton of money.
    • So much for the money Lucy was saving for her new apartment. She sends it all to her mother. And when Mariah hears what she's done, she gives her more money, which Lucy also sends to her mom.
    • All the kindness doesn't last for long, though. Lucy sends her mother a letter berating her for having married a guy who would leave her in such a bad financial situation. And she adds that she is thoroughly enjoying her life as a "slut" (the one thing her mother did not want her to be).
    • Her mother writes back to say that she loves her anyway. The letter winds up in Mariah's fireplace.
    • Mariah tells Lucy that she and Lewis are getting divorced, but she's kind of okay with it because she feels free.
    • During their heart-to-heart, Mariah suggests that Lucy forgive her mother.
    • Lucy tries to explain why she has such major beef with her mother.
    • Here's the story: when Lucy was nine years old, her mother had three little boys in the span of five years. Her parents planned to send all of the boys to a university in England, but there would be no such fancy schooling for Lucy.
    • Unfair. This really made Lucy feel like her mother betrayed her big time.
    • Mariah leaves the room and comes back with a big fat book about women's history that she gives to Lucy.
    • Sigh. Lucy takes one look at the book and laments to herself that Mariah totally doesn't get it. Her life, she thinks, "could not really be explained by this thick book" (4.54).
  • Chapter 5: Lucy

    • It's now January again, Lucy tells us. She also tells us that she's "making a new beginning" (5.1).
    • Before we can find out what that means, we're treated to a little history lesson. Lucy gives us some information about the small island where she grew up.
    • Back to the present. So the major news is that Lucy has left her job babysitting for Mariah and Lewis.
    • Lucy takes us back a few steps to fill us in on how she came to the decision to quit her job. She also describes Mariah's pretty peeved reaction to her decision.
    • Now Lucy is living in a new apartment with Peggy. She tells us all about her new digs.
    • Lucy mentions to us that in her desk are her personal documents, which leads her to tell us more about the origin of her name and a funny story about her mom and a pregnant dog.
    • As Peggy sleeps, Lucy shuffles around her new apartment. She gazes out the window.
    • Peggy joins her at the window. Lucy's new roomie is pretty rank, not having taken a bath or brushed her teeth. Oh man. What has Lucy gotten herself into?
    • Lucy recalls that Paul had stopped by earlier that night to check out the new apartment and take the two of them to dinner. It seems like the bloom is off the rose in this relationship. Lucy is getting sick of his possessive attitude.
    • But she still lets him stay overnight with her in her bed.
    • Good news: Lucy's got a new job working as a secretary for Paul's photographer friend. She's a little turned off by her overly chummy boss, Timothy Simon, who wants her to address him as Tim.
    • She's okay at her job, though she's not the world's greatest typist. And she's becoming addicted to coffee.
    • One of the perks of her job is that Mr. Simon lets her develop film in his darkroom.
    • Bad news. Lucy feels pretty lonely.
    • Even though she recently hung out with Mariah, who is eager to be buddies with her, she doesn't think she'll see her again.
    • Lucy suspects that Paul is cheating on her with Peggy. Is she crazy mad about this? Hardly. She couldn't care less.
    • After doing a few chores, Lucy climbs into bed and opens up a blank notebook that Mariah had given her. She writes her name.
    • Then she writes a sentence that moves her to tears and "caused all the words to become one great big blur" (5.36).