Category Archives: Strout – Elizabeth

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

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Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout was so interesting to me that I could not put the book down. The story uses characters from the novel My Name is Lucy Barton to create a world where the character’s stories connect and entwine with each others’ in surprising and interesting ways.

Funny, because I didn’t enjoy My Name is Lucy Barton at all. I felt as if that story was too subtle, with nothing much happening to the characters in terms of their emotional growth. Anything is Possible was the exact opposite. So much happened that it was if a whole new world had opened up to me.

Anything is Possible is set in Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy Barton grew up, dirt poor and rejected by her peers. The characters are all loosely connected with Lucy in some way, although she only appears in one of the chapters. Some of these characters are happy, innocent and good, while others are sordid and depraved, with the rest falling somewhere in between.

Each of the chapters could almost be read as a short story, but the constant connections between the protagonist of each chapter add together until all of the parts together made a novel.

The opportunity to get to know Lucy Barton through the other character’s eyes was wonderful to me. She was variously shown as a poverty-stricken abused child, a sister, a successful author, a cousin, and as a shining light for a teenage relative to emulate. There was the same sense of wonder for me in getting to know each of the other characters too.

Amongst my favourite characters were Tommy, who was the janitor at Lucy’s school when she was a child hiding in classrooms to avoid going home, and Lucy’s brother Pete, who was emotionally undeveloped for the same reasons as Lucy but who was still a good, loving man.

I had no respect for a character who supported her wealthy husband’s immoral behaviour so that her lifestyle was not compromised, and disliked her and her morals intensely. The remaining characters fell somewhere in between being good, honest and true, and being nasty, rude and as earlier mentioned, depraved.

When I read My Name is Lucy Barton, I struggled to believe that Lucy was a writer. In My Name is Lucy Barton, we got to know Lucy as she recovered from a serious illness with her mother by her side. In this story, we learned that Lucy had written several short stories, followed by a best-selling memoir. The conversations Lucy had with her mother and other characters in this novel did not give me the sense that she was capable of writing well. In Anything is Possible, I enjoyed the chapter where Lucy actually appeared and interacted closely with other characters, but again her conversation left me with the same sense of disbelief that she was a good and capable writer.

I’m thinking of re-reading My Name is Lucy Barton, because after reading Anything is Possible, I’m wondering I missed the point in the first novel.

Anything is Possible is probably best read after reading My Name is Lucy Barton, although it does work as a stand-alone novel. Elizabeth Strout fans will enjoy this book.

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My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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A Melbourne newspaper reviewed My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout yesterday and said wonderful things about the story. Exquisite. Masterful. Etc. I expect the reviewer is better qualified to write a review or critique than me, but I didn’t like the story or style at all. I loved Olive Kitteridge by this author, so I am feeling doubly disappointed.

The narrator, Lucy Barton, is in hospital recovering from a major operation or illness, (I forget which) and is laying around reflecting on her life when her mother shows up to sit with her.

Lucy has not seen or been in contact with anyone in her family in years. Her family lived in poverty when she was a child, partly because her father was traumatised during the war. Growing up, Lucy felt different to her peers, always dirty, hungry, and with no knowledge of popular culture, as her family did not own a television. They lived in the garage of her uncle, (or great uncle, again, I forget which) until he died and they moved into his house.

The visit gives Lucy and her mother the opportunity to talk and reconnect, however they never manage to talk about anything more important than what happened to a neighbour who left her husband for another man.

At the time of her operation, Lucy is married with two young daughters. She doesn’t work outside of the home but knows herself to be a writer on the strength of having had two stories published in magazines. Somehow she then manages to write and have My Name is Lucy Barton published, but I didn’t believe in her character as a person or as a writer.

Lucy tells her story in sentences which are short and undescriptive. I was left hanging whenever I wanted to find out more about her past, such as the ‘snake in the truck’ episode during her childhood, which to me was a story that needed to be told in more detail. Lucy’s father shot two Germans in the back during the war, but we don’t find out any more about that either, or the nature of his trauma. These are events that shaped Lucy’s life, but despite the advice she is given to be honest in order to be a writer, the character holds back, teasing the reader with a story but never telling it.

If there is more to My Name is Lucy Barton then the message is too cryptic for me, because I didn’t get it.

 

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