Friday, December 24, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

After reading Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout, I discovered I’d missed reading Anything is Possible, a collection of short stories in the same vein as Olive Kitteridge, but in the same “universe” as My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh William!. So I added it to my TBR pile and finally sat down to read it.

I don’t know why I always read things that are painful right around the holidays, but this book is this year’s emotionally draining work of fiction.

Anything is Possible
is set primarily in and around the small town where Lucy Barton grew up in extreme poverty and utter dysfunction. Her sister and brother are still there, getting by but damaged. The short stories all circle out from Lucy—friends, cousins, acquaintances, and people who connected with people who connected with Lucy. They are all damaged in one way or another. They all have small, private triumphs and deep, deep scars.

There is a beauty in the stories, as in all Strout’s work. Most of the characters are resilient and have the capacity to be kind. But there is just so much sadness in their lives. So much cruelty. It seems to some degree to be exaggerated, because everyone has so much pain to overcome, but then I think that the realism of that is what makes her books so poignant.

I’ve heard that reading fiction is important for the development of empathy. For me, that’s what Strout’s books are all about. No one does empathy quite as well as she does.

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