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Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

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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 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. ( )
  SamSattler | May 25, 2017 |
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 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. ( )
  fredreeca | May 25, 2017 |

I have been looking forward to this book ever since I heard it was coming out. It is a companion book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton‘ which was published last year. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ largely involves conversation between Lucy Barton and her mother in the hospital where Lucy remains hospitalized with complications of appendicitis. It is what is unsaid that is so powerful in that book. The reader becomes aware of extreme poverty and abuse in Lucy’s childhood. Lucy and her siblings were mostly shunned by the other children of their town. However, Lucy has made it out of Amgash, Illinois. She is married though that marriage is failing. She is a writer. She is looking forward, but during this time with her mother, she is also looking back. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is so intriguing, but it leaves the reader with so many questions. So, I could not have been any happier upon hearing that this book was being published.

‘Anything is Possible,’ published about one year after ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is told in short stories focusing on different people’s lives in adulthood who had lived in the town Lucy had grown up in. It reminds me so much of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ in the manner in which it is written. Each short story could be published in it’s own right, however, the flow of these stories and their connections to each other make for an incredible read.

It is heartrendingly beautiful, so full of life and heartache. It is so full of humanity.. of the human experience. It describes feelings, emotions, nuances of relationships so well. You experience the pushes and pulls of family, town and the world on the individuals in these stories. Amgash is a small poor town in rural Illinois. There are not many opportunities for upward mobility if one ends up living in town. Those who escape lead vastly different lives, but their pasts continue to haunt them.

Each story is intense in it’s own right. Each tells of a realization of self or family that is immensely important and a turning point in that person or family’s life. Some of these stories had me sobbing, they were that emotional and real. They are all deeply affecting stories, each and every one. They were so compelling that I would not want to stop reading at night. Despite wanting to keep moving ahead, I could have read the same sentence over and over and extracted more meaning from it each time. Each sentence was so loaded and powerful.

But, really what is most special about the book is the message or maybe the many messages. This book tells us that loving imperfectly is ok. Loving imperfectly can be lovely. It tells us that no one is alone, there are always others with shared similar experiences. It demonstrates how a simple small act of compassion can have such a huge impact and effect on the lives of others. It teaches us that feeling pain is actually a gift, for were we not to feel pain, that would be the real tragedy. This novel is about reconnecting with the past and making amends before death. It is about recognizing heroes and heroines, masked in normal everyday clothing. And of course, Elizabeth Strout does all this so eloquently and lovingly. This is a must read.. definitely my favorite book this year!

For discussion questions, please see: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=1578 ( )
  marieatbookchatter | May 24, 2017 |
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 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. ( )
  thewanderingjew | May 24, 2017 |
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 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. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | May 23, 2017 |
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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.
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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812989406, Hardcover)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 09 Oct 2016 12:12:38 -0400)

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