New York Times Review
"ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE" might look like a sequel, since it takes place after the action of Elizabeth Strout's best-selling 2016 novel, "My Name Is Lucy Barton," and portrays many of the same characters. But it's actually something far more complex, reaching across space (think of Faulkner's work, or Louise Erdrich's) and through layers of memory. Where the earlier book turned on the crystalline austerity and reserve of its narrative voice, guided by Strout's unerring sense of what Lucy would omit, the new work almost literally undoes the older one. What Lucy omitted, we learn - what Lucy hid? - radically alters our understanding of what Lucy said 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. In the novel Lucy narrates, she takes center stage and describes writing a book successful enough to land her a television appearance and a book tour. Here, seldom physically present but considered through the viewpoints of her siblings and former neighbors, she's the emblematic writer whose work reflects their own lives back to them. You need both to appreciate Strout's most striking effect, a stereoscopic view that makes Lucy's rural hometown, Amgash, Ill., seem unusually vivid and Lucy herself truly threedimensional. Our familiarity with these stories' central characters - Lucy's brother, Pete, and sister, Vicky; the janitor who let Lucy study after school in heated classrooms; the sisters known as "the Pretty Nicely Girls"; Abel Blaine, who taught Lucy to search in the Dumpster behind the bakery for food; and more, all known to us from "Lucy Barton" - enhances the illusion. In the novel, Lucy and her mother gossiped about those characters, swapping stories about their lives as tokens for the feelings they were too reserved to state directly. Here, in their own stories, the "tokens" reveal their complex pains and desires and then, appearing as minor characters in other stories, subside once more into the background. Object, subject, object again. Tommy Guptill, the janitor in "The Sign," sees Marilyn Macauley in a store just before he passes a display of Lucy Barton's new book and then thinks of Marilyn's husband, Charlie, damaged by his military service like Tommy's own brother. Charlie reappears in "Windmills" as the person Patty Nicely loves and later gets his own very moving story, "The Hit-Thumb Theory." And so on. 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. Look! Here's the homely "Sewing and Alterations" sign at the end of the driveway at Lucy's family home. There's the single tree in the endless fields of corn and soybeans, the truck in which Lucy was locked as a little girl, the series of children's books still cherished by Lucy's brother. And, crucially, there's a question raised earlier by Lucy: "We think, always we think, 'What is it about someone that makes us despise that person, that makes us feel superior?' " Many of Strout's crisply drawn characters will confront that question as they move beyond their "humble beginnings." Patty Nicely, in a moment of anger, calls Lucy's niece "a piece of filth" and in a phone call refers to the Barton family as "trash." Later she takes that back, feeling that her life has been changed by reading Lucy's book, in which "Lucy wrote how people were always looking to feel superior to someone else, and Patty thought this was true." Dottie Blaine similarly notes how certain visitors to her bed-and- breakfast "seemed to feel very superior" and that "this matter of different cultures was a fact that got lost in the country these days. And culture included class, which of course nobody ever talked about in this country, because it wasn't polite, but Dottie also thought people didn't talk about class because they didn't really understand what it was. For example, had people known that Dottie and her brother had eaten from Dumpsters when they were children, what would they make of it?" Dottie's right. We don't talk much about such matters (or we didn't until recently). Strout is quietly offering us a kind of master class on class, starting with a title that ironically suggests its opposite. When, in "Sister," Vicky reveals to Lucy some particularly humiliating family history and suggests that Lucy write about it, Pete says he'd prefer to read "about the family on the prairie" and Lucy begs her to stop talking. "She said - and her voice was loud and wobbly - 'It was not that bad.' Her voice rose. 'No, I mean it.'" But it was that bad. It was always that bad. 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 web of allusions, memories and fragments weaves through Strout's stories and her earlier novel. ANDREA BARRETT is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories, including "Ship Fever," which won the National Book Award, and, most recently, "Archangel."
Library Journal Review
In Strout's previous best seller, My Name Is Lucy Barton, the main character eventually escapes her life of fear and poverty by leaving town. This title follows some of the people who continue to live in the town Lucy fled, which has more than its share of poverty, domestic unhappiness, violence, and abuse. Those who were left behind continue on in their daily struggles, some faring better than others. Each chapter provides a brief look at one or two of those individuals, building a web of relationships and connections among the community and, tangentially, Lucy. The school janitor, the high school guidance counselor, Lucy's brother and sister, and several others provide insights into the different interpretations of events, showing the range of human response that is possible in the face of challenges. VERDICT With her latest work, Pulitzer Prize winner Strout (for Olive Kitteridge) crafts a deep and complex inside view of the hearts and minds of individuals who make up a community. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/16.]-Joanna -Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In her latest work, Strout achieves new levels of masterful storytelling. Damaged lives can be redeemed but, as she eloquently demonstrates in this powerful, sometimes shocking, often emotionally wrenching novel, the emotional scars can last forever. If some readers felt that Strout's previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, was too subtle and oblique about Lucy's hellish childhood, here Strout reveals specific details of the horrible circumstances in which Lucy and her siblings were raised, as recollected by some of the inhabitants of Amgash, Ill., and the surrounding communities. Using the novel-in-stories format of Olive Kitteridge, Strout again proves Tolstoy's observation that each family is unhappy in its own way. Except for one episode in which Lucy herself comes back for a tortured sibling reunion, she is the absent but omnipresent thread that weaves among the dozen or so characters who are have suffered secret misery and are longing for love and understanding. Some are lucky: one of the five Mumford sisters reunites with her runaway mother in Italy; another, an angry young girl, is suddenly able to see the way to a brighter future. Others, including a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and a rich woman who is complicit in her husband's depraved behavior survive despite the baggage of tortured memories. "They had grown up on shame; it was the nutrient of their soil," one character acknowledges. Strout's prose is pared down, yet rich with implication. It is left for the character in the final episode, Lucy's cousin Abel, who despite a similarly deprived childhood is now a happy and successful business executive, husband, father, and grandfather, to observe, in what may be his final moments, that "Anything was possible for anyone." (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Booklist Review
*Starred Review* In this collection of short stories centered in and near the fictional town of Amgash, Illinois, last visited in My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016), Strout once again shows her talent for adroitly uncovering what makes ordinary people tick. Here, for the most part, it's sex. Nearly every story has sex at its core not erotic or salacious sex, but the sex that beats in our hearts, the mundane stuff that brought every last one of us into being. It's almost misleading to classify these as short stories; while they read fine as stand-alones, they work best as chapters that make up a novel of Amgash. Each story feeds off a previous one, whether via shared characters or mention of a prior incident. For example, Lucy's former classmate Patty not only gets her own story, she's also featured prominently in several stories and is mentioned in passing in others. Most of the stories feature Lucy herself on the periphery, at least whether it's a character reading Lucy's latest book or seeing her on a TV spot or stopping on a memory of the dirt-poor Barton clan. 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.--Vnuk, Rebecca Copyright 2017 Booklist
Kirkus Review
A radiant collection of stories linked to Strout's previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016, etc.), but moving beyond its first-person narration to limn small-town life from multiple perspectives.Lucy is long gone from Amgash, Illinois, but her absence looms large; now that she's a well-known author, the fact that her desperately poor family was despised and outcast has become an uncomfortable memory for the locals, including her damaged brother, Pete, and resentful sister, Vicky. Strout stakes out the collection's moral terrain in its first story, "The Sign." Tommy Guptill, who was kind to Lucy when she was a girl, still drops by the ramshackle Barton house to check on Pete even though it's quite likely that Pete's father was responsible for the fire that destroyed Tommy's dairy farm and reduced him to taking a job as a school janitor. Tommy is an extraordinarily good man who took the calamitous fire as a spiritual lesson in what was truly important and has lived by it ever since. Patty Nicely, protagonist of "Windmills," is another genuinely decent person who returns kindness for cruelty from Vicky's angry daughter, Lila, who, in addition to viciously insulting Patty, states the jaundiced town wisdom about Lucy: "She thinks she's better than any of us." That isn't so, we see in the story in which Lucy finally visits home ("Sister"), but there are plenty of mean-spirited people in Amgash who like to think so; it excuses their own various forms of uncaring. 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 (Patty's nasty sister, Linda, and her predatory husband, Jay, in the collection's creepiest story, "Cracked"). The epic scope within seemingly modest confines recalls Strout's Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge (2008), and her ability to discern vulnerabilities buried beneath bad behavior is as acute as ever. Another powerful examination of painfully human ambiguities and ambivalencesthis gifted writer just keeps getting better. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.