Book Review: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

And then as Tommy drove he realized: Oh, it was the mother. It was the mother. She must have been the really dangerous one.

 In the highly-anticipated companion to My Name Is Lucy Barton Elizabeth Strout expands upon the stories that littered Lucy’s hospital bedside and prove that her mother’s shallow speculations glossed over the real troubles of her neighbors, acquaintances and even her own children.

But the truth is, I don’t know if my mother loved us or not. I don’t know about her in some big way.” He looked at Tommy, and Tommy nodded. “But my father loved us,” Pete said. “I know he did. He was troubled, oh, man, was he troubled. But he loved us.

 Lucy Barton has shed the skin of her childhood in Amgash, Illinois to become a best-selling author though the family and community she left behind are still coping with this; the implications of a meek, destitute girl finding prosperity. Her story brings to the surface the memories long forgotten by the populace of this small Midwestern town.

When she looked into her pocketbook to find her phone, she saw the small book by Lucy Barton that she had slipped in there earlier. She sat down and examined the cover. It showed a city building at dusk with its lights on. Then she began to read the book. “Holy moley,” she said, after a few pages. “Oh my gosh.”

 For some this serves as a reassurance and reminder that to struggle is part of the human experience.

Now, as Patty drove into her driveway, saw the lights she’d left on, she realized that Lucy Barton’s book had understood her. That was it— the book had understood her. There remained that sweetness of a yellow-colored candy in her mouth. Lucy Barton had her own shame; oh boy did she have her own shame. And she had risen right straight out of it. “Huh,” said Patty, as she turned the car engine off. She sat in the car for a few moments before she finally got out and went inside.

 The nuance of the everyday life is explored in various extremes- some ordinary while others lean heavily on the disturbing. The depth that this story reaches is remarkable and its ability to illuminate the characters of Strout’s previous work and the resulting reflection of the American public is compelling.

You never get used to pain, no matter what anyone says about it. But now, for the first time, it occurred to him— could it really be the first time this had occurred to him?— that there was something far more frightening: people who no longer felt pain at all.

 Each story adds a thread to this tightly woven tale and the final stitches are laid as the narrative returns to the Burton family. Lucy’s brother Pete, the last remaining Burton in Amagash, prepares for his sister’s visit. As the children reconnect, now as adults who have grown separately and apart, they revisit the torment of their childhood. Swapping stories turns quickly from reminiscing to resurrecting as the pain of their memories is brought forth.

Lucy stood up. “Stop it,” she said. Her face had two red splotches high on her cheeks. “Stop it,” she repeated. “Just stop it.” She looked at Vicky, then she looked at Pete. She said— and her voice was loud and wobbly—“ It was not that bad.” Her voice rose. “No, I mean it.” Silence hung in the room. In a few moments, Vicky said calmly, “It was exactly that bad, Lucy.”

 A collection of nine short stories, Anything Is Possible, is an epic tale of imperfection, vulnerability and the fragility of spirit.

What Annie did not say was that there were many ways of not knowing things; her own experience over the years now spread like a piece of knitting in her lap with different colored yarns— some dark— all through it.

 Read voraciously.

Thought?

A review copy of this title was provided by Random House via Netgalley.

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