#BookReview Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

AnythingIsPossibleAbout the Book

Recalling Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.

Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind.

Format: Hardcover (272 pages)      Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 4th May 2017     Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

Anything Is Possible is a series of interconnected stories set in or around the town of Amgash in Illinois.  Lucy Barton, the main character of the author’s earlier book, My Name Is Lucy Barton, is the link between the various stories.  All the characters either knew Lucy or knew of her. Lucy herself doesn’t turn up in person until the story entitled ‘Sister’ which describes the long overdue reunion with her brother, Pete, and sister, Vicky.  Their sharing of childhood memories provides readers like me who haven’t read My Name Is Lucy Barton with a sense of the tone and subject matter of that book.

The book deals with some serious issues: failed or dysfunctional relationships, illness, bereavement, sexual assault, even murder. Although there’s no doubt about the author’s skill in creating flawed characters, I’ll admit I found the sense of melancholy that runs through a lot of the stories quite overwhelming at times. It’s probably why some of my favourite stories were those with a more uplifting tone. For example, ‘Mississippi Mary’ in which Angelina pays a long-awaited visit to her mother, now living in Italy with a new husband, and finds a way to come to terms with the new direction her mother’s life has taken. Or ‘Dottie’s Bed & Breakfast’ in which Dottie listens to the experiences of those who stay at her guest house, as they find they are able to unburden themselves to her. ‘To listen to a person is not passive. To really listen is active, and Dottie had really listened.’

As you read the stories the links between characters become progressively more apparent. Characters feature in other stories, even if it’s only passing one another in the street or shop, driving past their house, hearing about them from a neighbour or reading about them in a newspaper. In other cases, the connections are deeper and more intimate in nature. By the end of the book, I felt I knew the citizens of Amgash and had gained a partial insight into their lives, and the choices they had made, even if seemingly unwise or illogical. In the words of Dottie, ‘She came to understand that people had to decide, really, how they were going to live’.

I received a review copy courtesy of Penguin Books UK.

In three words: Perceptive, insightful, poignant 

Try something similar: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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Elizabeth StroutAbout the Author

Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire.  From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days.  She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction.  During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.

During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on.  She read biographies of writers, and was already studying – on her own – the way American writers, in particular, told their stories.  Poetry was something she read and memorized; by the age of sixteen was sending out stories to magazines. Her first story was published when she was twenty-six.

Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977.  Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.  She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College.  By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen.  Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing.

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