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Anything is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

GENRE: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

From Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout, this compelling novel is a well-drawn picture of small-town America. Set in fictional Amgash, Illinois, this book reads like a collection of short stories, each chapter an in-depth character study of the people who call it home. Fans of My Name is Lucy Barton will be delighted to revisit this character and her acquaintances.

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Author Biography

Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire.  From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days.  She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction.  During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.

During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on.  She read biographies of writers, and was already studying – on her own – the way American writers, in particular, told their stories.  Poetry was something she read and memorized; by the age of sixteen was sending out stories to magazines.  Her first story was published when she was twenty-six. 
Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977.  Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.  She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College.  By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen.  Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing.  - Author's website

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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, its 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.--Rebecca Vnuk (Reviewed 03/15/2017)

Kirkus Reviews

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 ambivalences--this gifted writer just keeps getting better. (Kirkus Reviews, Dec. 27, 2016)


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