Monday, September 18, 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Although I didn't realize it, this is actually a collection of inter-related short stories rather than a novel.  The protagonists in each of the stories is somehow related to characters in the other ones.  All of the characters live in (or come from) small towns in Illinois.  Many of them are of impoverished backgrounds; several of them were abused as children; all of them are very strange.

In the first story, Tommy used to own a dairy farm which burned down; he then worked as a janitor at the local school.  He befriended several of the children there and still visits Pete, a loner, who thinks his father was responsible for the fire and that Tommy is visiting him as punishment.  Tommy seems normal enough except that he thinks he saw God at the time of the fire.

Pete's sister, Lucy Barton, left the small town years ago and is now a successful writer - she is the main character in Strout's prior novel, My Name is Lucy Barton.  Lucy comes back to visit with Pete and their other sister in one of the stories and we learn more about their horrid upbringing.  The visit ends in Lucy's panic attack driven escape.

In two stories we also meet Lucy's cousins Abel and Dottie who were so poor growing up they used to eat from dumpsters.  Abel is now a successful businessman while Dottie runs a bed and breakfast.  Other townspeople we meet are the Nicely sisters, Patty and Linda.  "Fatty Patty" is a guidance counsellor at the local school where she is verbally abused by a student, none other than Lucy Barton's niece.  Her husband has died and she is secretly in love with an older married man, Charlie.  Charlie suffers from PTSD and cheats on his wife with a prostitute.  Linda is married to a rapist who seems to always get away with it.  Patty and Linda's mother, who left them when they were teenagers after having an affair with one of their teachers, struggles with dementia.  We also meet Patty's friend Angelina whose mother left for Italy to marry a much younger man after discovering her husband's marital infidelity.

As strange as all the characters are, they are very interesting so I enjoyed the book.  It was also an easy read since each story was fairly short so you could break it into small pieces.

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