Elizabeth Strout takes her background characters from My Name is Lucy Barton and brings them to the forefront in these interconnected short stories. You don’t need to have read Lucy Barton to understand and enjoy Anything is Possible but I do think it will help flesh out some of these essays. Lucy, who doesn’t narrate any of these stories, left her small town and eventually became a writer in New York. Several of these stories connect back to Lucy who has a memoir published in the same time frame as these essays so she is mentioned a few times in passing and makes an appearance in her brother’s story.
“And so there’s a struggle, or a contest, I guess you could say, all the time, it seems to me. And remorse, well, to be able to show remorse—to be able to be sorry about what we’ve done that’s hurt other people—that keeps us human.”
I enjoyed the opening essay about Tommy Guptill, a man whose farm burned down decades ago who then became a janitor at the local school, since it towed the line between sadness and uncomfortable pity better than some of the others. Tommy took special notice of Lucy, then a young girl, since she would stay late every day to both study and avoid her depressing home life. In the present day Lucy is in New York but Tommy continues to check up on her brother, Pete, who still lives in the old family home.
Patty Nicely’s story, Angelina’s “Mississippi Mary” and the story focused on the grown up Barton children were the other essays I found <strike>most enjoyable </strike> the least cringe worthy.
While I liked Patty’s story enough I could not stand her sister’s which involves peeping Toms and other sexually deviant behavior. This was the start of the stories going down hill for me. Charlie Macauley’s story about the hooker was full of terrible people, the story with Dottie & the Smalls just gave me secondhand embarrassment and Annie’s story barely left an impression. I most disliked Abel’s story which was a shame because it was the closing essay and soured my overall impression.
It’s strange, thinking back I really only like three or four of the essays which should average out to a 2.5 Star rating but I can’t help but feel like this is still a 3.5 or 4 Star book. I credit Strout’s talent as a writer for that. Her characters are flawed, complex and human; their stories are beautifully written giving them all clear points of views. Even though I didn’t like the content of every story Strout’s skillful writing is undeniable.