Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Opening sentence: ‘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.’
I only discovered author Elizabeth Strout last summer, but this is my third book of hers (of a possible six she’s written) and it is a perfect blend of everything I loved about the previous two. She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Anything is Possible is set in the hometown of Lucy Barton, the character we met in the 2016 book My Name is Lucy Barton, which was Lucy’s (fictional) memoir. Anything is Possible is not a direct sequel but follows on from this book and is an emotional, poignant and empathetic look at the lives of people from Lucy’s hometown – some know her, some don’t. Lucy even makes an appearance herself. In a parallel to the other Elizabeth Strout book I’ve read, Olive Kitteridge, Anything is Possible takes the form of a series of short stories (in this case, nine) that each focus on a different character, but, importantly, together they flow as a novel. Multiple characters cross into each other’s stories and we see the subtle relationships of the town.
From Lucy Barton’s brother to the Tommy of the opening sentence, who, as the school janitor, knew Lucy as a child and observed, “But it was that day, seeing the way she jumped, seeing the terror that crossed her face, when he guessed that she must have been beaten at home. She would have to have been, in order to be so scared at the opening of a door.” We get to find out more about Lucy’s childhood through the people that knew her. There are also wonderful stories she doesn’t appear in, such as the exploration of a mother / daughter relationship on the Italian coast and a sinister set up in a wealthy couple’s guest room. The stories start off in a seemingly innocent tone, but often there is an undercurrent of darkness and secrets running throughout, which is the element that makes them all just so addictive and readable.
The voice and prose here are exactly the same as her previous books, so if you’re a fan of those, you will love this (if you’re not, this is not the book for you!) You don’t have to have read My Name is Lucy Barton to appreciate this book, it works perfectly as a stand alone, but knowing Lucy certainly adds a richness to the read. Also, for me, there is something so rewarding about slipping back into the world you loved so much in a previous book and discovering new characters. Such a satisfying and wonderful read, Elizabeth Strout’s characterisation is exceptional, Anything is Possible is the literary equivalent of people watching, and who doesn’t love to do that?
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.