This is the third book I’ve read by Strout, and I found it even more moving than the other two (both excellent). Strout’s latest is set in the same place and time as her previous book, My Name is Lucy Barton. And in fact, Barton is a peripheral character in the book, which shows how Barton, now a published author, is perceived by her family and childhood neighbors. If you haven’t read Lucy Barton, I suggest reading that one first, although you can read either as a stand-alone.
Strout is an author who writes about small towns, day to day life, and deep-seated personal issues. Barton told the story of the title character, who talks to her mother while recovering in a hospital bed. These conversations with her mother explore the issues of Barton’s childhood and marriage.
Anything is Possible is set in small-town Illinois. Lucy Barton is someone who grew up in their town but got out. What Strout really explores in this book is how the people in this area relate to each other. The book begins with Tommy, an old man who recalls his days as a farmer, before his farm burned down and he took a job as the school janitor. He lives a good life with his wife and doesn’t have regrets. He checks in occasionally on Lucy Barton’s brother, Pete, who lives alone in the old Barton house.
Some reviews are easy to write but this one is proving difficult, I think because it’s really hard to describe the power of Strout’s characters and her beautiful writing. What I can tell you is that I warmed to each of these characters, who are vividly described and thoughtfully portrayed (although many of them are not the nicest people). Reading this book, you feel like you know these people, and while they all struggle with various problems, they are all people you might want to meet.
That is, except for one chapter in this book, which I found really disturbing and so different from the rest. It’s told from the point of view of a wife who lives in a nice home with expensive art on its walls, with a room that is let out to visiting artists.
The book focuses on relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, and siblings. It looks at the emotional struggles we carry within us, and the secrets people keep. One particularly moving character is a Vietnam veteran who has to deal with his memories and emotional trauma. Another is a heavy-set school counselor who is secretly in love with the veteran. Another is a B&B owner who encounters the veteran during a difficult time.
Like Olive Kitteridge, this is not quite a novel and not quite a book of short stories. The stories all revolve around a community of neighbors and family members, each of them touching the other characters in different ways.
With this read, I’m now a huge fan of Strout’s direct and poignant writing style, and her ability to create brief portraits of characters so real you feel they’re living and breathing. I do wish we got a little more of Lucy Barton in this book, but then, she already had her own book. This one is about the people’s lives that she’s impacted. I highly recommend it.