Ellen Feldman’s superb novel, Lucy, captures the spirit of pre-World War I Washington, D.C. with it’s social code, manners and morals as though she lived thru it herself. Tall, handsome, charming Franklin Roosevelt was making his mark as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Deliberately wearing his distant cousin Theodore’s trademark pince-nez glasses, FDR, was a young maverick, still fit and strong, still striding and running. Charming Lucy Mercer came to work as Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s social secretary. In these years Eleanor was forever pregnant or just getting over delivering a baby. The social expectations for an Assistant Secretary were overwhelming for the shy young matron.
When Eleanor takes the “chicks” (as she and FDR referred to their brood of 5 children) to the couple’s summer home on Campebello Island, FDR finds himself bored and lonely. He invites Lucy to dinner–something they both know is wrong. The rest, as history knows, was the first of the two big crises in the Roosevelt marriage (the other was FDR’s polio). Yet there was to be a devastating epilogue to the story–it was Lucy, not Eleanor, who was with FDR when he died.
I love this book still because it is written in the manners of that more innocent time. We don’t catch anyone between the sheets or anything tawdry like that. I like it, too, because it shows how easily love and lust can change lives. Finally, I love it because Lucy went on to marry a man many years her senior and she seems to have been both happy with and faithful to him. It was after his death that she reconnected with FDR.
This is historical fiction of the finest sort. Lucy by Ellen Feldman