Anything Is Possible: A Novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Hardcover, 2017

Call number




Random House (2017), Edition: 1st, 272 pages


"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"… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Elizabeth Strout has a gift for connected short stories. This collection focuses on the everyday lives of people in a rural midwestern community, many of whom are struggling economically or emotionally. Lucy Barton, the heroine of Strout’s previous novel, hails from this community, and while she
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has been absent for many years, her presence is still felt by siblings and former classmates. Strout fills in details of Lucy’s life that were barely glimpsed in the novel, and Lucy eventually makes an appearance. But while the connections to the novel are interesting, it’s not central to enjoying this book. Anything is Possible stands completely on its own as an set of quite of moving portraits of people just trying to get by.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
This novel is comprised of interconnected vignettes about people in the same small town, and in a way the town becomes a character as well. Lucy Barton, from Strout's earlier novel, is a unifying force in this book, much as Olive Kitteridge was in Strout's eponymous masterpiece. Through the eyes of
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various characters we learn about the townspeople and their attitudes toward each other, and the hard scrabble families become especially vivid. In my opinion, this book is much stronger than My Name is Lucy Barton, although I'm now motivated to re-read that. And I hope Elizabeth Strout returns to Amgash Illinois for us.
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LibraryThing member librarian1204
I went back to Illinois , to Amgash, the small town Lucy Barton came from . I met the people who grew up with her and the adults who remember her family and their hard times. I met the school janitor who looked out for Lucy, the little girl, who wanted to be alone . I met the Nicely sisters and
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found out what the future had in store for them. Lucy and her mother had spoken of them. Each one in a different chapter, all citizens of that small town, with a story , that is full of hope and sadness and the realizations that escape us as we move forward in our lives day by day.
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.
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LibraryThing member seeword
In this collection of linked short stories, Strout expands on the lives of several people mentioned in My name is Lucy Barton. It stands alone, you don't have to have read Lucy Barton to appreciate these stories of small town life, love, and loss. Strout is one my favorite authors and this one does
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not disappoint. Loved it.

Advance review copy through GoodReads.
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LibraryThing member dianaleez
For me Elizabeth Strout’s strength as an author lies both in the depth of her characterizations and her remarkable style. Her newest offering, ‘Anything is Possible,’ is again a straightforward story of seemingly ordinary people presented with both great insight and deceptively simple
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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.
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LibraryThing member debkrenzer
I did not read "My Name is Lucy Barton" but I want to now. I got a glimpse into her life from this book but not a lot. This book was about the characters that were in Lucy Barton's hometown. They were quite the crew.

The majority of the book was about and written from Tom the janitor's point of
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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.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
I liked My Name Is Lucy Barton well enough, but I remember wishing I had read it in a book club, where discussions might have explored some of the subtext and the minor characters. So I was thrilled when I realized that’s exactly what Strout has done here, in this collection of nine short stories
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that are linked through the shared characters (now grown-up) of Lucy Barton’s childhood, including Lucy herself.

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.)
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I'm not quite the devoted Elizabeth Strout fan as many of my fellow readers. I thought Olive Kitteridge was just OK, and I didn't care much for My Name Is Lucy Barton, but I really enjoyed Anything is Possible. For one thing, I love collections of interconnected stories. The characters here all
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live in the small, economically depressed town of Amgash, Illinois, and their stories reflect memories of growing up and maturing in this small, fairly typical American community. There's a good deal of lingering pain from extreme poverty, bullying, neglect, abandonment, PTSD, and abuse, yet the stories never come across as maudlin or hopeless. In fact, each character rises above his or her pain to work towards understanding the past and finding a more humane future. Lucy Barton, now a successful New York novelist, makes an appearance, returning to Amgash to visit her sibling for the first time in years. We also encounter a school janitor who reaches out to Pete Barton, a somewhat crazy recluse hanging on to old resentments; a Vietnam veteran determined to hide his pain; a high school counselor pushing against her loneliness; a divorced bed and breakfast owner negotiating the distance between hostess and guests; a resentful 'ham' actor; a daughter who, afters many years, visits the mother who left the family to join her lover in Italy; and many more. Each character's story contains a link to another character, creating a sense of a community whose members, even if now geographically or economically distanced, will always be interconnected. The writing is subtle but effective: Strout creates characters that are entirely believable and whose thoughts and feelings are exquisitely expressed. After reading Anything Is Possible, I will be going to back to see if I missed any other gems by this author.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Linked stories from Lucy Barton's home town and the people that made up the town. First story features Charlie, former maintenance man at the school the Barton children attended, a kind old man who remembers Lucy as was kind to her, though many weren't. The Barton's too poor and in fact Lucy's
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brother Pete still lives alone, in the dilapidated house of his youth. Charlie makes a point to visit this lonesome and strange man though he has good reason to write the whole family off as you will see when you read this wonderfully thought out novel.

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.
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LibraryThing member GirlWellRead
A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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
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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!
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
"But this was life! And it was messy!"
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
In these inter-linked stories, Elizabeth Strout once again takes her readers to Amgash, Illinois. There are many characters that were introduced in My Name Is Lucy Barton during Lucy's conversations with her mother. Lucy and her family are viewed from the perspectives of these characters, and the
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inner lives and pasts of the townspeople take on an added dimension. These are ordinary people living under difficult circumstances that include loneliness, infidelity, abandonment, and unrelenting poverty with its ensuing class prejudice and shame. Amid the sadness and despair in their lives, there are moments of kindness, understanding and connections with other people that give them moments of hope and grace. "The child is father of the man" is never more true than in Strout's insightful writing in all her books, and this book is no exception.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
If you haven't read Elizabeth Strout's novel, Lucy Barton, prior to picking up Anything Is Possible, that would be a shame. Not because you actually need to have read it in order to appreciate this new novel. Just because it was such a fine, delicate, book. Full of sadness and, despite the sadness,
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hope. And that, in a way, very much characterizes Strout's latest novel as well. Sadness, piles of sadness, and yet glimmers of hope.

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.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member smallwonder56
Elizabeth Strout is an amazing author. Her talent for writing interesting, realistic characters is nothing short of amazing. Similar to Olive Kitteridge, Anything is Possible is a series of stories revolving around Lucy Barton, the main character in Strout's last book. The interweaving of
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characters was masterfully done and left you wanting to have a diagram to see how all of the characters were interrelated. Amazing book. I want to go back and re-read it in a few months just to get everything I can our of the characters.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Although not as good as My Name is Lucy Barton, this loosely connected story is a collection of short stories about people in the town where Lucy grew up. Don’t read this book if you need an uplifting story. All of the characters in the book lead depressing live.
LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
Since I enjoyed My Name is Lucy Barton, I looked forward to reading this follow-up. It can be read as a stand-alone but having read Lucy helped me realize her connection with people from her small hometown in Illinois. This is a book of short stories about people tied in some way to Lucy. Lucy even
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makes an appearance in one of the stories, "Sister."

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.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Brilliant book. It is so good to read her books. Mostly I complain that books are too long but this book could have done with another 100 pages.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
If you liked Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton (and almost everyone who read it had good things to say about it), you are going to absolutely love Strout’s follow-up, Anything Is Possible. My Name Is Lucy Barton largely took place in Lucy’s hospital room while she and her mother
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talked about people they both knew from the little town in which the Bartons lived. If the Bartons were not the poorest family in town, they were certainly among the very poorest, and Lucy and her mother largely judged their neighbors as a reflection of how those people treated them and the rest of the Barton family. That, however, does not mean that their assessments of those they discussed were always the same, leaving the reader to wonder sometimes which of their characterizations was the most accurate.

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.
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LibraryThing member PatsyMurray
I am sorry that I cannot add my voice to those who are singing the praises of Anything Is Possible. There is much that is positive here: the novel is fast-paced and the situations realistic so you keep reading, but to believe that you are seeing deep character development is an illusion. Once I was
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about three-quarters through the book, I started having difficulty distinguishing one character from another and grew disappointed that almost everyone's story turned on sex and deprivation of some sort, whether it was poverty or a lack of love or both. Sex, food and money are cornerstones to almost everyone's life, but there are so many characters and they are all dealt with so briefly that the sexual situations especially seemed to begin to ring false. While at first they were believable and added to our understanding of the character, the accumulation of so many stories of loveless marriages, sexual torment or deprivation, began to feel sensationalistic. I began engrossed, but by the end I was speeding through the book just to finish. I feel bad about this because I wanted to like the older man, Abel Blaine, in the last story and to root for him, but I was so annoyed at what I considered to be the facile introduction of the unbalanced actor that if there is any deeper meaning there (perhaps some parallel between Blaine and the actor and the meaning of the Christmas Carol), I couldn't be bothered to sort it out.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
There's no way that I can write anything that accurately sums up my reaction to Elizabeth Strout's new book, Anything is Possible. In form, it's most closely related to Olive Kitteridge, being a collection of closely related short stories about people from Amgash, the small town where the
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protagonist of Strout's previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton grew up. Amgash is a struggling agricultural community, whose residents work as high school guidance counselors, janitors, nurse's aides and housewives. Those who leave enjoy broader prospects, but are nonetheless shaped by the town they grew up in. Lucy Barton's existence hangs over the town; she's a success story, but the residents are ashamed of how she and her family were ostracized and of the bleak poverty that clung to them.

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.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout, author; Kimberly Farr, narrator
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member fredreeca
I really don’t know how to do an overview for this read. This is a tale which is more about a small town and its myriad of people. There are a good many characters and it is disjointed in places. But the stories surrounding each of these players keep you moving along and wanting to know more. The
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characters each have their own hang-ups and personal issues. Each one struggling to over come, well, life! The novel doesn’t have a main character unless it is Lucy Barton but, she has a minor role.

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.
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LibraryThing member heidialice
A collection of interconnected stories set in a small town in Illinois. Beautifully written, slightly frustrating for a novel-lover like me -- just as I got into one story, switched over to another, but really that is a testament to the writing.
LibraryThing member Jcambridge
I am a fan of Elizabeth Strout, but I found this book to be disjointed and depressing. The focus is on people from the small town where Lucy Barton grew up, so it helps to have read I Am Lucy Barton before reading this one. Having grown up in a small town in the Midwest, I could relate to some of
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the characters and situations, but found the negative focus off-putting. I found this passage to be particularly depressing: "...but beneath it all people were rats scurrying off to find garbage to eat, another rat to hump, making a nest in broken bricks, and soiling it so sourly that one's contribution to the world was only more excrement..."
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

This novel is in fact a series of inter-linked chapter-long stories featuring characters from Strout’s previous novel “Lucy Barton”. I have read that novel, but didn’t recall it in any detail and I don’t think you need
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necessarily to have read it first.

The writing is absolutely beautiful and I found the novel a compelling read. It was gentle, very sad and slightly claustrophobic. Terrible things happened, but these were dealt with in practical, common sense ways. Terrible things were revealed to have happened in the past and these were shown to have inescapable consequences. Various characters demonstrated kindness to others (Dottie to Charlie, Tommy to Pete), and some even turned their lives around to an extent (Patty, Lila), but I would not call this a particularly hopeful book. It certainly doesn’t give a very rosy view of marriage. Strout shows her characters in such depth that none is wholly good or even likeable and yet we sympathise with their plights and understand their decisions.

I can’t bring myself to give this novel five stars because it made me so sad – I wanted there to be one character who was happy with their life.
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