Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an extraordinary book about normal people living normal lives. On the outside, people live private, God-fearing lives, they get by, they smile, they work. Inside, they hide secrets, horror, misgivings, sadness and love. With the same vision and delicacy she displayed in My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout tells us about the people of Amgash, Illinois, the small rural town where Lucy Barton grew up.
In Anything is Possible, as in real life, threads of small town life are tangled together, generation after generation, each seemingly isolated but all connected by invisible tendrils of family, neighbourhood, school, farming. The shared history of living together through the years in close proximity, a community where everyone knows everyone else, their shame, their success, their failure, their betrayal and loyalty, is a community it is impossible to escape. Where adolescent misdemeanours, which may or may not have happened, are remembered as fact and decades of distrust attached. But as well as secrets and shame, there is redemption and love for those who face change and find a way to the other side.
This is more a collection of inter-connecting stories rather than a novel with a single narrative spine, but it is finely written with care and grace. A companion novel to My Name is Lucy Barton, it is not essential to have read that novel first but in some ways it does help.
There are nine chapters each focussing on one character and each, you realize at the end, are firmly entwined like the roots of a closely-planted grove of trees. In the first we see Tommy Guptill, elderly now, but once the caretaker at Lucy’s school. In the second, school counsellor Patty Nicely is insulted by student Lila Lane, daughter of Lucy’s sister Vicky. And so the stories keep coming as you gradually build up a picture of the Amgash citizens. After seventeen years away, writer Lucy is drawn back to the dirt-poor family farm where her brother Petie still lives. There, like the other characters in this novel, she discovers how your history cannot be left behind because it is hard-wired within you.
In her portrayals of these straightforward straight-talking Amgash citizens, Strout poses questions for the reader and does not give answers, expect to do some work yourself when reading her novels.
Read my review of My Name is Lucy Barton.
‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout [UK: Viking] Buy now
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