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.