I read My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout last January shortly after it was published and hated it. A book about an adult daughter reconciling with her mother after a difficult childhood, I found it to be a long and winding book with unpleasant characters (how dare they actually have human flaws!)
Anything Is Possible is a collection of linked short stories that serve as a companion book to My Name is Lucy Barton before Lucy’s stay in the hospital (she even makes an appearance in the book). Based on Lucy’s hometown of Amgash, Illinois, the collection looks at the residents who can trace their roots to the impoverished community. There is Tom the janitor, Patty the school counselor, and Mary the expat who moves to Italy. While the stories can be read as a stand alone, the reader will have a more enriching and profound experience if they have read My Name is Lucy Barton first. Family plays a central role in these stories: both the functional well-adjusted relationships, and the families that have long since shattered irretrievably.
Strout’s writing looks unflinchingly into the human psyche, something that made me uncomfortable while reading My Name is Lucy Barton in retrospect. In rich and verdant prose characters’ masks are peeled away, revealing the deeply flawed and complicated people they are. Strout’s work is an intricate weaving of heartbreak and hope, with a glimpse of sunshine even when the burden of life seems all consuming. What struck me especially was how true these tales felt. Nothing seemed stretched or over exaggerated, rather this is real life condensed into a razor-sharp literary work. Walking through this Tour de Force of complexity the reader walks out feeling a little less alone and more encouraged that indeed, anything is possible.
“And for a moment Annie wondered at this, that her brother and sister, good, responsible, decent, fair-minded, had never known the passion that caused a person to risk everything they had, everything they held dear heedlessly put in danger—simply to be near the white dazzle of the sun that somehow for those moments seemed to leave the earth behind.”