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Anything Is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

Series: Lucy Barton (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2539310,662 (3.96)115
"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.… (more)

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» See also 115 mentions

English (84)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (92)
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
7
  kristi_test_02 | Jun 16, 2020 |
couldn't finish! Became very disjointed and cofusing ( )
  marylovesbooks | May 25, 2020 |
I love everything Elizabeth Strout writes and this is no exception! ( )
  Dianekeenoy | May 22, 2020 |
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this novel is how readable it is. I found myself having to ration out the books so that I wouldn't consume it in a single sitting.

Yet this isn't page-turning in the conventional sense. There's no complex and clever plot to unravel, no sense of threat or intrigue to tease yourself with page after page. There as just life as we all live it.

What makes it compelling is not that I want to know what happens next but I want to know these people and, in the process, I want to know more about how their experiences mirror mine.

In each chapter, I get to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. It's not a first-person experience but rather a guided tour with the authorial voice capturing every emotion, memory and reaction with an empathy so deep you could drown in it.

The book opens with an eighty-three-year-old man driving into town to buy his wife a birthday present and then stopping in on a neighbour on his way home. That's it as far as action goes yet during this ride I found out about the events that shaped this man's life, about his beliefs and his hopes, about his attachment to the bright but fearful and isolated Lucy Barton who was once a student at the school he was a janitor in and who now lives in New York City and is a writer of well-known books. I come to understand his ability to "live through" disaster, his impulse to help others and the relationship he believes he has with God.

There's a whole novel, just in that one chapter. Each of the other eight chapters is like that, sweeping me along not just in someone's story but in their current experience and choices. Each chapter focuses on someone who was in the supporting cast of characters when Lucy Barton was recalling her childhood in *My Name Is Lucy Barton", In "Anything Is Possible", each of them gets to be centre-stage for a while, the prime mover in their own universe. Each universe exercises a gravitational pull on at least one of the other universes in the book.

Each of the nine chapters could be seen as the free-standing short story describing how an individual sees the world, but we're being offered more than a quilt of nine squares here. This is a novel with a consistent authorial voice, leading us through the thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story and in the process, highlighting the themes that connect them and all of us as we try to live our lives.

I see this novel as a three-dimensional piece of art that, although the eye first reads it from left to right, becomes something non-linear: a set of lens viewing a common space but from different angles and different focal lengths. From their different perspectives, the chapters describe a central space, that we all recognise and share but can rarely regard clearly because we are so tangled up in our own story. It's a place where our hope, shame, anger, love, compassion and desires meet.

That all sounds rather complicated and perhaps a little dry but the experience of reading the book is one of easy access to sometimes painfully accurate experiences that resonate as real. Each room in the house is welcoming and built on a human scale. The true nature of the architecture only dawns on you later.

This is a book that, as one of the characters says of Lucy Barton's novel, "made her feel understood and less alone". There are big themes here but I believe the main one is that, while all our lives are unique, we do not have to be alone if we are prepared to forgive ourselves and others.

One of the themes of the book is the nature of love. One character sums it up by saying:

We’re all just a mess, Angelina, trying as hard we can. We love imperfectly, Angelina, and it’s ok.

One of my favourite characters, the youngest of the Pretty Nicely sisters, now sometimes called Fatty Patty by the children at the school she works in, understands that empathy is difficult because we are too self-absorbed to make space for it:

Everyone,she understood, was mainly and mostly interested in themselves.

She also understands that love is what breaks down the walls of our isolation and allows us to be better. She refers to it as a protective skin:

This was the skin that protected you from the world, this loving of another person you shared your life with.

The characters show us that we all love imperfectly BUT that it is still possible to choose our own path, to change the plot of our own story and to influence the stories of others:

One of the things that occupy that central space that the stories share is how our past shapes us. In the final chapter, the main character, once poor and now rich, is puzzled by the power of his past to shape his present:

"What puzzled Able about life was how much one forgot but then live with anyway, like a phantom limb"

In these stories, shame plays a huge part in shaping people's perception of themselves and others. Shame walks hand in hand with attitudes to class. Both create ostracism, disempowerment, unkindness, and derision. The make some people less real than others. They erode self-worth and foster abuse.

Violence, whether we commit it or are on the receiving end of it, also leaves permanent scare, whether it's PTSD from acts committed during a war on being subject to violent abuse throughout childhood.

I found one of the hardest chapters to experience was the one where Lucy Barton comes home and meets with her brother and her sisters in the tiny house they all suffered through their childhood in. The present pain caused by past abuse is almost unbearable. When the talk turns to the terrible things their parents did, Lucy cries out in denial and says "It wasn't that bad", all the while knowing that it was.

This is one of a number of examples that show how hard it is for us to see clearly, to remember honestly (or at all), and to focus on the important choices in our lives.

The message I took away from the book is that living through things we don't is unavoidable. Life cannot be pain-free. We live and love imperfectly. We drag our past after us. Compassion, forgiveness and kindness are the best salves available to us.

I think this book will become a classic. I highly recommend it.

If you'd like to get an insight into what Elizabeth Strout thinks of her novel, read the interviews below.

Seattle Times article "Talking to author Elizabeth Strout about her new novel, ‘Anything Is Possible" where Elizabeth Strout explains how she wrote the book and comments on some of the themes in it.

Interview with Penguin Books where she talks about her hope that her books will make people feel less alone.

I listened to the audiobook, which was perfectly performed by Kimberly Farr. Click on the SoundCloud link below to listen to a sample of her performance.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/319870206" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /] ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
Elizabeth Strout has a very particular and intriguing voice. Her works aren't really like anyone else's. This book, like My Name Is Lucy Barton, explores personal tragedy and joy in equal measure. ( )
  bibliovermis | Feb 19, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
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For my brother, Jon Strout
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Tommy Guptill had once owned a dairy farm, which he'd inherited from his father, and which was about two miles from the town of Amgash, Illinois.
Quotations
This was the skin that protected you from the world--this loving of another person you shared your life with.
And you have always taken up so much space in my heart that it has sometimes felt to be a burden.
What puzzled Abel about life was how much one forgot but then lived with anyway--like phantom limbs, he supposed.
Right behind it was the last of the day's full light; generously, the colors from the setting sun sprayed upward over the open sky.
Panic, like a large minnow darting upstream, moved back and forth inside him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * An unforgettable cast of small-town characters copes with love and loss in this new work of fiction by #1 bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout.

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.

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.
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