Thursday, 7 December 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

The best things come in small packages is one way you could describe the works of Elizabeth Strout. Her writing is the kind of quiet, perfectly observed fiction where every sentence carries a depth of understanding, the dialogue is pitch perfect and the characters seem very real. Strout delivers more of her small town insight in the new collection Anything Is Possible.

These stories all have a connection with Strout’s novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. Each dips into the life of a different character from Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy grew up. Lucy even makes an appearance when she visits her family home, the grubby and crumbling house that is now home to her brother and where lurks the misery of their childhood.

I particularly warmed to the character of Patty, who buys Lucy’s book and finds it inspiring. We read how she met her husband and the terrible event in her childhood that has affected her ever since. Later in the collection, a whisper of gossip lets us know that Patty has moved on and found happiness. Other characters make early appearances, such as Dottie who runs a bed and breakfast visited in an early story, only to have their own story later in the book.

There are dark threads of recrimination, broken childhoods, sexual abuse and cruelty running through the stories. Elizabeth Strout is brilliant at capturing the lives of quiet desperation you find in rural backwaters, or anywhere really. But there is hope as well, the warm moments when characters make unexpected connections. Like the title says, anything is possible.

Sometimes you can easily overlook short stories in favour of the wider scope and plotlines offered by the novel. And while it is true you can easily pick up and put down a collection of stories, I found I had to keep reading this one. Strout is a master at both genres. If you enjoy Anything Is Possible, make sure you read Strout’s Pullitzer winning collection, Olive Kitteridge, which is now something of a modern classic.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Anything Is Possible

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