These stories return Strout to the core of what she does more magnanimously than anyone else, which is to render quiet portraits of the indignities and disappointments of normal life, and the moments of grace and kindness we are gifted in response ... Omission is where you find what makes a writer a writer; it is in the silences where forgiveness and wisdom grow, and it is where Strout’s art flourishes. This new book pushes that endeavor even further ... With Anything is Possible — using the sum of its parts to paint the humanity of an entire community — Strout hits the target yet again.
...to see Strout as simply interested in regret is to ignore the simultaneous presence in her fiction of something very different: unbidden, shattering grace. Strout frequently shows us what Flannery O’Connor called 'the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace' into human lives. In these moments, a deeper knowledge of self becomes possible; radical change — from selfishness to selflessness; from bitterness to love — becomes imaginable...Anything Is Possible confirms Strout as one of our most grace-filled, and graceful, writers ... There’s a gift to be found in this simple sharing of pain. It’s the gift of grace, the place where this book finds possibility in a vale of tears.
Where this book sharply departs from Strout’s previous work is in its frank, unapologetic emphasis on forbidden desire. Not a chapter spins by, practically, without the unveiling of some sexual secret ... Anything Is Possible is certainly more grim than Strout’s previous work. It’s more audacious, too, and more merciless, daring you to walk away ... But the writing is wrenchingly lovely. It almost always is with Strout, whether she’s knitting metaphors or summarizing, with agonizing economy, whole episodes of a life ... You read Strout, really, for the same reason you listen to a requiem: to experience the beauty in sadness.
Writing like this looks easy, but it isn’t. Strout’s style is all the more powerful for its understatement, and reminded me of both John Steinbeck and Anne Tyler – two other great observers of the interaction between internal and external landscapes, who also appreciate the value of simplicity over self-conscious floridity ... There is, in every chapter, a wrenching, beautiful dissonance between private desires and public obligations ... Strout shows compassion for her characters, but never sentimentality. Their stories are told with respect, nuance and a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue ... Strout is a brilliant chronicler of the ambiguity and delicacy of the human condition. Anything Is Possible is a wise, stunning novel. If there is a theme that unites these stories, it is the longing to be understood – arguably the most human desire of all.
A welcome return to form, its pages are full of searing insight into the darkest corners of the human spirit and starkly demonstrate how shockingly easy it is to both damage and be damaged by those we love — sometimes irreparably so ... In its entirety, Anything Is Possible is both sweeping in scope and incredibly introspective. That delicate balance is what makes its content so sharp and compulsively readable. In fact, one might say that this — Strout’s winning formula — has succeeded once again. With assuredness, compassion and utmost grace, her words and characters remind us that in life anything is actually possible. The highs. The lows. And everything in between.
...[a] elcome literary salve for these alarmingly acrimonious, anxiety-inducing times ... Strout is a master of the story cycle form most closely associated with Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Like Anderson, she paints cumulative portraits of the heartache and soul of small town America by giving each of her characters a turn under her sympathetic spotlight ... Yes, her fiction can tend toward the sentimental, but here's the thing about Strout: She never tries to sugarcoat the fact that it is indeed a sad, hard world ... In showing such compassion for her characters, Strout makes us care about them and share her belief in the possibility of finding forgiveness and love, however imperfect.
On its own, this volume of nine linked stories offers pleasures akin to those of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, to which it pays clear homage, and to Strout’s own collection of linked stories, Olive Kitteridge — but you’d be missing a lot to read it that way ... A web of allusions, partial memories and teasingly Cubist fragments weaves through the stories and into the earlier novel, fortified by recurring images and memories ... Strout’s brilliant achievement is to create in one book a character who can give a clear but deeply reserved account of what it’s like to be isolated, poor and abused, even as she makes us see the dignity in refusing to dwell on the details. And then, in Anything Is Possible, Strout creates a messier, more richly human version of that character’s world, thick with details and even more profound in its rendering of the ways we save, or fail to save, one another.
...[a] spare and sensitive pendant piece [to My Name is Lucy Barton] ... Ms. Strout is hardly a sentimentalist, however. In this wise and accomplished book, pain and healing exist in perpetual dependence, like feuding siblings. 'It made me feel better, it made me feel much less alone,' Patty tells Charlie Macauley after reading Lucy’s memoir. 'Oh no,' he replies. 'No, we’re always alone.'
Anything Is Possible triumphantly and repeatedly overturns readers' assumptions about the most memorable characters in My Name Is Lucy Barton ... Taken together, these two books are a profound statement about the elusiveness of truth about ourselves and others. People are more complex than we can ever know, and it is better to assume when observing others that anything is possible. But Strout is gentle in her assessment, not judgmental.
Anything is Possible puts pressure on some of these elements, allowing a closer, more concrete study than My Name Is Lucy Barton’s elegant stream of understated hearsay and reluctant recollection. Here, bodies are bruised; here, people recall acts of cruelty with specificity, both the ones they have endured and the ones they have enacted ... Strout’s genius is her ability to wring deeply moving stories from such ungenerous sources; to reveal, through hurried gestures and single syllables, the welter of feeling the Lydias and Olives of the world are trying to conceal.
When Elizabeth Strout is on her game, is there anybody better? Her latest, Anything Is Possible, is Strout’s best book since Olive Kitteridge ... Family secrets — which Strout slyly reveals — abound in Anything Is Possible. Despite moments of darkness, this is a generous, wry book about everyday lives, and Strout crawls so far inside her characters you feel you inhabit them. It celebrates love (always imperfect) and forgiveness, acknowledges the burdens and gifts of feeling genuine emotion (small, illuminating moments of connection), and suggests judgment where judgment is due. This is a book that earns its title. Try reading it without tears, or wonder.
...after finishing Elizabeth Strout’s new collection of linked stories, Anything Is Possible, I had to reread her previous book, My Name Is Lucy Barton — and then I went straight back to Anything Is Possible. I read the two books twice, and was happy about it. Now I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the miniseries ... Gossip has a bad reputation, but sometimes it’s just being interested enough in people to want to know more about them than they might want you to. That’s exactly what this book feels like ... The only real question here is whether you should you read My Name Is Lucy Barton before you read Anything Is Possible. I think either way works. If I’m any guide, you’ll be reading them both twice anyway.
Neither novel nor linked story collection strikes me as adequate terms to describe this book's ingenious structure, in which characters reappear in each other's stories. In a few cases, we experience remarkable encounters from different points of view in different stories ... Strout's sentence style fits these Midwestern folks and tales: straightforward while also seeming effortlessly lyrical, seeded both with humor and bitterness like many of our days.
Without a single battle scene, or image of gore, or impassioned speech about the horrors of human conflict, Anything Is Possible is a haunting damnation of war ... it’s not a bad idea to reread Lucy Barton before opening this one to reacquaint yourself with the townspeople of Amgash ... War is by no means the main theme of Anything Is Possible. If anything, the novel moves toward an unexpected optimism. Yet war’s effects linger, as subtle as Pete Barton furtively moving his window blinds to see who’s outside: It’s a small action, but reveals so much.
...[a] richly resonant new book ... Having read My Name Is Lucy Barton will certainly enrich your understanding of this book, but it's not necessary — these stories stand on their own ... Shame is a nearly universal motive in Anything Is Possible, which addresses class in a way that's rare in American fiction.
Anything Is Possible is a stunner. It is unblinking in its psychological portrayals of a cast of characters raised in socially impaired households in a small, Northern Illinois community ... a score of major and minor characters are drawn in such rich, crisp detail that they sear the heart ... Strout strips away the false drapery of social class, revealing notions of sophistication as mere gildings of dress, manners and home décor ... Strout’s gifts as a storyteller are evocative of Edward Hopper’s captured moments of American life. Like Hopper, in Anything Is Possible, Strout leaves impressions you’ll not soon forget.
Anything Is Possible is also a book about ordinary people who undergo extraordinary suffering and, in some cases, manage to survive. It is just as bitten-back and as full of horrifying elisions and surprising epiphanies as its predecessor. This time Lucy is a character in a wider cast, her story just one of several that were lightly sketched in My Name Is Lucy Barton, and are now fleshed out ... What the stories in Anything Is Possible all have in common is this sense of the communality of human guilt and suffering ... Strout’s compassion for her fellow creatures, as these anguished, lean stories again prove, is as keen as a whip, and all the more painful for it.
These stories read more like thought experiments for the earlier book than the novel they purport to be, but they have some charm ... In sum, the compelling characters found in these pages are the ones we can identify with, persevering despite past and present obstacles that are fixed like wings to their backs. At her best, Strout shows us the yearning and dignity that coexist with such obstacles. Hope endures. Anything is possible.
Strout once again shows her talent for adroitly uncovering what makes ordinary people tick ... Clearly, this is a must-read for fans of Lucy Barton, but it’s also an excellent introduction to Strout’s marvelously smart character studies.
Class prejudice remains one of Strout’s enduring themes, along with the complex, fraught bonds of family across the generations, and she investigates both with tender yet tough-minded compassion for even the most repulsive characters ... Another powerful examination of painfully human ambiguities and ambivalences—this gifted writer just keeps getting better.
In her latest work, Strout achieves new levels of masterful storytelling ... Using the novel-in-stories format of Olive Kitteridge, Strout again proves Tolstoy’s observation that each family is unhappy in its own way.
...a remarkable collection of stories ... Most of the stories in Anything Is Possible follow similar trajectories, calling to mind the epiphanies of James Joyce’s Dubliners and the enigmatic revelation of grace in the stories of Flannery O’Connor. Strout ingeniously links these tales ... This rich, luminous volume makes clear why Elizabeth Strout has become one of the most celebrated and beloved literary voices of her generation.
...another brilliant collection of linked short stories ... Although Strout retains an affinity and skill for certain plotlines and mindsets, not having to stay grounded to the stoicism of a single character creates a new wildness ... Anything Is Possible is many good things between two covers: a reason to celebrate for fans of Elizabeth Strout and a joy for short-story lovers. It is a meditation on how familial secrets can shape generations. Most of all, it is a writer refining her own form with heightened complexity and daring.
Elizabeth Strout’s new book grows more impressive with each passing page, as it becomes clear that the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is slowly, subtly building one big story from a bunch of small ones. There are nine chapters in Anything is Possible. Each can be enjoyed as a stand-alone short story. But read them in order, and you’ll see that they fit together like tiles in a mosaic.
A rich and intricate tapestry of tales, the chapters are tightly woven together: Pick at a single thread, and it will lead through the entire book. Small details echo throughout, glinting and winking off each other, and yet each chapter is a perfect, standalone jewel box, narrated in a distinct voice ... A dazzling work of structural, thematic, and psychological complexity, Anything Is Possible stands as an alternate text to those books that depict an angry, hopeless, and despairing white working-class culture.
Each story, told in intimate third person voice, stands on its own. Read together, the stories form a constellation—like looking through the refracting lens of a kaleidoscope, which breaks the image of the real world into a fractal-like rose window, an intricate design of connected, repeating fragments ... Strout confides in us, provides readers the illusion of an almost omniscient bird’s eye view of the linked lives of Amagash, but even we, her privileged readers, cannot see or know everything. On these pages, as in life, we’re in for some great surprises.
The stories of the people of Amgash and beyond relate to one another sometimes closely, sometimes obliquely; there are glimpses of other people that feel exactly like the glimpses one has of those with whom our own lives intersect … It is an extraordinary — almost miraculous — exercise in imaginative empathy, unsentimental and unflinching, yet full of respect for the moments in friendships and relationships that remain mysterious and half-understood … [Strout’s] writing is supple, subtle and almost completely transparent, eschewing showiness of any kind and instead relying on a mastery of free indirect speech so complete as to create a perfect illusion of eavesdropping on others’ thoughts and feelings at the very moment they are having them.
Elizabeth Strout is a master of silences and small-town resignation … It’s not necessary to have read Lucy Barton to follow the residents of Amgash, Ill. – although for those who have, Anything Is Possible offers additional news of characters like Marilyn McCauley, Charlie’s wife, and Mississippi Mary, who nursed her cheating husband through cancer and then, once he was well, ran off to Italy with a man 20 years her junior. Lucy Barton puts in an appearance with her first trip home to Amgash to see her siblings … Many of the characters...are copers – dealing with death, abuse, and fizzled dreams. In Anything Is Possible, permission to grieve is often received as a moment of grace.