"Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others. Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother's happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the author's celebrated New York Times bestseller) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence. Reverberating with the deep bonds of family, and the hope that comes with reconciliation, Anything Is Possible again underscores Elizabeth Strout's place as one of America's most respected and cherished authors"--Amazon.com.
Linked stories are my favorite structure of fiction, and here the linking is used to perfection, deeply exploring characters from a full-frontal perspective in one story and then from sideways glances in others. These characters and their stories interested me so much more than Lucy Barton ever did ... although they do make me want to re-read Lucy Barton, just to encounter the first mentions of them again, now that I know them so well.
(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
Strout readers will find familiar terrain in Amgash, Illinois, a small farming community where local memories and class prejudice run deep. The book is actually a collection of short stories, focusing on the inhabitants, their families and their collective memory.
Life in Amgash, the childhood home of Lucy Barton ( heroine of an earlier Stout novel of the same name) isn’t easy. The reader meets, among others, Lucy’s siblings Pete and Vicky, as well as the farmer-turned-janitor Tommy Guptill and guidance counsellor Patty Nicely and her siblings. Family matters in Amgash; the bonds of family resonate throughout the stories.
On the surface, Stout’s stories are sometimes dark and often painful. People aren’t always good to each other. Amgash has more than its share of bad behavior. But like Lucy Barton, most of Stout’s characters are survivors who rise above cruelty to respond with kindness. Patty is able to help the student who belittles her; Tommy visits the son of the man who attempted to destroy his way of life, and Lucy is able to return to her own family and reconnect with her siblings.
Perhaps ‘Anything Is Possible’ is a book that we all should read and take to heart.
A reviewer's copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
All have stories to tell, of past and present, and they are startling in some of their admissions. Stout has a fantastic understanding of the sorrows, fears, secrets and the many ambiguities that make up the human condition. Not only does she understand but that she is able to put them down so succinctly is admirable. Her deft hand with dialogue is also a big plus. All these stories are interesting, some appalling but taken as a whole we garner a pretty good understanding of where Lucy came from and what and who has changed since she left.
Lucy herself puts in an appearance to visit her brother and sister, a visit that has a startling finish. Sometimes you can physically leave a place but the scars still linger. A short novel, but one that contains much. Another fantastic offering from this very proficient author.
ARC from Netgalley and Random House
Release date: April 25th, 2017.
The majority of the book was about and written from Tom the janitor's point of view. He is the one to share what he saw of Lucy while she was growing up. There is also Lucy's remaining family, her brother and her sister. You get a real feel for what life was like growing up in that house when the three of them get together when Lucy, on a book tour, visits the town she left so long ago.
Definitely a sad read, but I did enjoy it.
Thanks to Random House for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Lucy Barton is a character in Anything is Possible, though she only appears in person in one chapter. But she is there in all the other chapters as well, through the friends, relations, and acquaintances who connect to her life. And if Lucy has grown up in abject poverty and worse, then she is not alone. Indeed, nearly everyone whom Strout focuses upon here is burdened by suffering or sadness (these are not the same). A few are severely disturbed, even dangerous. But most are merely helpless victims of their environments, their families, or their compulsions. It would be very bleak reading if it weren't for the surprising (is it surprising?) rays of light that break through.
Lucy is one of these, but she is not alone. In their small ways, nearly everyone who has survived their childhood has found some measure of grace. I don't know if that is Strout's general view on life or just a reflection of these particular characters. But it makes for compelling reading.
Advance review copy through GoodReads.
Strout is simply a gift. Her writing is breathtaking, gorgeous, and heartbreaking. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton, Strout draws on the small-town characters that Lucy and her mother talked about—we are given insight into their lives and learn how their stories are woven together in this work of fiction that reads more like a novel than a compilation of stories.
In My Name Is Lucy Barton, the work speaks to the reader on a different level in that it was more about the nuances and what was left unsaid. This book is more character driven, examining the human condition, stories of love, loss, and hope.
In a word, brilliant!
After Elizabeth Strout wrote My Name is Lucy Barton she was moved to tell the stories of the hometown characters Lucy and her mother had talked about, resulting in Anything is Possible.
In Strout's prize-winning book Olive Kitteridge each character is touched by Olive; in Anything is Possible it is Lucy Barton who provides the context for each story.
The suffering behind the stories made my heart ache. Poverty, abuse, deep loneliness, and loveless lives have left their marks on these characters. And yet--and yet--their resilience is rewarded with moments of grace, a nod of understanding, friendship offered unexpected--the small gifts that shed a ray of hope that life can be different.
As I was reading Strout I was also reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I noted similarities between the books: crushing childhood poverty, resilience, and an understanding that being truthful about life isn't pretty.
Lucy's sister Vicky asks Lucy why she doesn't write the truth of what happened to their family. Who'd want to read that story? their brother Pete asks. I would, Vicky replies. I was reminded of a scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn where Francie's teacher tells Francie to write pretty stories, not stories about drunkenness and poverty, the stories of Francie's real life. The question always is, do writers tell the truth or 'pretty' life up? Strout has decided that life is messy, and yet, as Pete tells Vicky, we don't turn out so bad in spite of it.
It is Strout's honesty that is unsettling and moving. By entering these character's lives we learn compassion. We walk in their shoes for a while and they become more than a recluse, or a fat lady, or the poor kids who ate from dumpsters.
The best part is the compassion these characters have for each other. Lucy's brother Pete remarks that their mother 'just wasn't made right,' and Lucy agrees but adds, "She had grit. She hung in there."
At a time when Americans are trying to understand the force behind popularism and the political climate, we are turning to literature to understand the experiences of those who are from different backgrounds. Forget some of the over-marketed best sellers. Read Strout.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Lucy, herself returns for a chapter with her brother Pete and her sister, Vicky. They sit in the old house and they remember. With laughter and then pain.
Dottie Blaine running A Bed and Breakfast , learning that folks like to talk if they have someone who will listen to them. Abel Blaine, who made it out of the poverty and keeps apologizing for doing so.
The story flows from chapter to chapter, character to character, all interwoven seamlessly . You won't easily forget these people and their stories but then when Elizabeth Strout tells you a story you aren't expected to.
Read as ARC from NetGalley.
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I had read My Name is Lucy Barton first. I have it in my TBR pile. Just have not picked it up yet. I did not realize this novel was a sequel, or contained the same characters. However, no one writes a story quite like Elizabeth Strout. I love how she weaves love of friends and family along with pain, loss and sometimes abuse. She creates stories impossible to forget and the tales stay with you long after the book is finished.
I received this novel from Netgalley for a honest review.
In this novel, the author has continued the saga of “Lucy Barton”, the title and character in her book of the same name, but it is now decades later. Lucy was raised in Amgash, Illinois, a small town with neighbors that seemed overly critical of each other, often exhibiting ridicule when compassion would have been the better option. It also seemed overly populated by troubled residents.
After Lucy left Amgash, as a young girl, she never returned until now, as a much older woman. The author reintroduces many of the people she came in contact with during her difficult and troubled childhood. Those who influenced her life in some way and who were responsible for the adult she became were reintroduced in this book. Who they were, who they became, and why, is the substance of the story.
There were times that I felt the narrative was disjointed, as so many characters from the previous book were recreated and connected to her past. Coincidentally, in one scene, in the same way that Lucy and her mom had a meeting of the minds in the first book, two other characters did the same in this book. Angelina and her mother Mary seemed to reconnect across the distance of miles and time, with a heart to heart conversation that was at once very difficult, but also very revealing and cathartic for both.
Every character seemed to have a story to tell, a horrifying secret to reveal, or a relationship to reconcile. There was nary a character that seemed to simply grow up happily and unscathed. They all had some dysfunction, greater or lesser, with which to contend. All of the characters seemed to leave a trail of confusion or pain in their wake as they grew older; some still seemed scarred even after experiencing a sudden revelation that made them understand or accept their past or that made them able to find a pathway forward.
The author tried to reconstruct the characters as each new scene began, but at times I thought perhaps there were simply too many to keep track of or remember. Still, although it was a bit convoluted at times, the characters did take on a life of their own, even if not always believable. The nature of the novel made it repetitive at times as each character related something of their past and explored their memory of events connecting them to each other.
I found it interesting that in the novel, Lucy Barton became an author who had written her memoir, and this author, Elizabeth Strout, was essentially writing it for her. Lucy Barton was troubled as a child, and although successful, she still seemed troubled as an adult. I was not sure that the author was able to prove her premise that anything was possible.
These nine stories are actually spokes around the wheel of Strout's previous work, the novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. Each character tracks back to Lucy - siblings, teacher, custodian, cousins, friends - and some yield up painful information about Lucy's desperately impoverished childhood. "Sister" is the central story that brings together the three siblings - Pete, Vicky, and Lucy - in a reunion that contains all the pain on earth, with a tiny bit of redemption. One story takes place in Maine, and the rest in rural Amgash (just the place name along - ugh) Illinois. The paucity of any true community between these citizens and neighbors may be the most frightening aspect of the tales - except for Lucy's mother - whose son says, "I don't know about her in some big way."
Quotes: "Yvonne, in her youth, most likely had not come from much. Shoes always gave you away."
"Mary had spent more time thinking about Elvis than anyone could have imagined, and in this way the pleasure of her mind - because it was her mind and could not be known by others - had developed early in her marriage. In her mind, she had looked into his lonely eyes and let him see that she understood him."
"Mary was very angry. She had never liked being angry; she didn't know what to do with it."
We get to read what Lucy's childhood was like living in poverty with her siblings. The stories are sad as we are told about their lives and the lives of others in the community and how they relate to each other. Elizabeth Strout is an author who knows how to make her characters connect to their surroundings, circumstances, and the people in their lives. She makes all of them seem like real people who are having real problems and emotions. I hope she doesn't make us wait very long for her next book.
Each story stands on its own, but is made richer by being situated with other stories about the same place, with central characters from one story being mentioned in another. I'm a sucker for the interconnected short story format, and I'm a fan of Strout's understated but fine writing, but I'm pretty sure this book is very, very good.
In Anything Is Possible, Strout fills in the backstories of many of the characters Lucy and her mother discussed in that hospital room. And because Strout has revealed that she more or less wrote the two novels simultaneously, Anything Is Possible is even more intriguing than it already would have been. This time around, the author uses a group of what at first appear to be a collection of standalone short stories that turn out to be so interrelated that they morph into an even more satisfying novel than Lucy Barton was. And that is saying a lot.
There are stories about Lucy’s mother, her siblings, one mentally-unstable Vietnam War veteran, some of the town’s richest residents, and several others from Lucy’s past. Lucy herself makes an appearance in a story titled “Sister” in which we learn that the trauma of growing up dirt poor as member of a family looked down upon by the whole town has emotionally crippled her for life. Lucy, now a well-respected novelist, seems caught between two worlds when she finally pays her hometown a visit after several years of absence – so much so, in fact, that she suffers a panic attack of sorts that has her fleeing Amgash in pure desperation to escape the childhood memories being there stirs up for her.
Bottom Line: Anything Is Possible works beautifully as a stand-alone novel for readers who have not read My Name Is Lucy Barton, but the novel’s special beauty comes from how much it adds to the reader’s understanding of the events and characters in Lucy Barton. This is literary fiction at its best, and it is not to be missed.