Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
To be honest, I feel very conflicted about Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible. Having only read Amy and Isabelle (ages ago, in high school) I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Going into reading it, I knew it was a collection of short stories centered around a small town in Illinois and characters that are somehow connected to each other through their childhoods and adult lives.
I really enjoy books written in such a format. I sometimes find it more enjoyable to get to know characters in short snippets or vignettes. I think it can give a character a clearer, more accessible presence when they are presented in such a way that you can only view them through one setting, perhaps only one hour or one day of their life. In other words, I was intrigued by this book from simply that information alone and didn't delve much farther into any reviews prior to reading it.
When reading a book like this its almost like people watching from a bench or looking through someones windows on a clear night when their curtains are open. You only get a small glimpse, but they aren't aware you are watching and thus left to behave and think in an honest way true to themselves. There were many passages that I underlined, truth found in the words of these characters. It left me wanting to know some of them a little bit better, which is part of Elizabeth Strout's magic.
"...he understood that all that mattered in this world were his wife and children, and he thought that people lived their whole lives not knowing this as sharply and constantly as he did." p. 6
"Everyone, she understood, was mainly and mostly interested in themselves....This was the skin that protected you from the world- this loving of another person you shared your life with." p. 54
What I wasn't expecting while reading this book was the amount of uncomfortable sexual situations or themes that seemed prevalent throughout each of the character's stories. I'm not sure why it was important to include such themes repeatedly. (The story Cracked left me feeling very unsettled and confused). I haven't read her previous book, My Name is Lucy Barton, so I'm not sure if this is something that was important to her story (she is a repeating character mentioned in Anything is Possible). Regardless, I guess I was caught unawares and left a bit uncomfortable by some of it. By the end, enough of it had accumulated to almost deter me from my earlier awe at the passages I had marveled at. With each story being so short, these themes seemed to stand out more to me than had they been woven into a larger and more linear novel. So perhaps, that is what really struck me more than anything. Each character seemed tagged by one of these experiences, in my mind.
Overall, this book was incredibly emotional and well-written. Elizabeth Strout did a wonderful job weaving together characters linked only by a place or knowledge of a girl named Lucy Barton (or the Barton family). Many of the characters beg for a chance to tell their own story, I feel, and I would love to read that. I will also be looking into her other books as well.