Pub. Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Random House
Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for her work in“Olive Kitteridge.” In my review of “Olive,” I wrote, Olive is an old grouchy woman having much trouble adjusting to her small town’s changing ways. The novel is 12 linked short stories with Olive making an appearance in each story….the point of the novel is that life is quickly over, and we need to learn to enjoy the sweet moments because they are gifts that one never seems to appreciate untill they are gone….Strout writes with powerful insight into the tragedies and joys that make up life.”
In Stout’s book “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Lucy might be a relative of Olive’s, though unlike Olive, Lucy is raised in poverty. But the feel of the novels are similar. Once again small-town characters stir up feelings of love, loss and hope. In my review for “Lucy,” I wrote “This is the story of an author looking back on nine reflective weeks she spent in the hospital…Lucy’s return to the past starts when her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in years, comes to visit her in the hospital… There are no plot twists or gimmicks in this novel; this is not a fast paced page turner. It is a character driven novel narrated by feelings, more than by text. Only the most talented of authors could pull this off.”
In Stout’s latest novel, “Anything is Possible” the author writes about the supporting characters in “Lucy” that Lucy and her mother gossiped about while Lucy was in the hospital. The novel is not exactly a sequel to “Lucy.” It reads more like a follow-up in time of the characters. As in “Olive,” the novel is composed of linked short stories that weave together the histories of the characters who know of each other.
In “Sister,” Lucy is long gone from her childhood home and is now an established author. She returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of deliberately staying away. She is coming home because she is on a promotional tour, for her latest book (a memoir) that is near them. Lucy feels that she is now strong, and adult enough to return for a visit. Her hopes for a pleasant family reunion are destroyed once she is reunited with her siblings. Her brother, Pete, seems damaged from his childhood. He cannot even look Lucy in the eye never mind letting her know how happy he is to see her. He has learned to squash his emotions as a coping mechanism. His shyness almost makes him appear to be developmentally challenged and awkward to be around. Her sister, Kathy, is the opposite of their brother. Her angry emotions are front and center. Kathy is resentful that Lucy not only escaped their childhood poverty, but is now a successful author. Her digs to her sister are constant throughout the visit. But it is clear to the reader that Lucy is not as well adjusted as she seems. Attempting to converse with her siblings causes her to have overwhelming panic attacks, forcing her to flee from them as if their childhood home is on fire. All three are still paying the price of growing up feeling un-loved.
In “The Sign” we learn about Lucy’s childhood elementary school janitor who is now an old man. Tommy was always kind to her when she was a child. He is still a sweet and caring man who checks in on Lucy’s brother, Pete, from time to time. This is especially generous since Tommy knows that the chances are high that Pete’s father burnt down Tommy’s dairy farm, his livelihood, which changed his family’s lifestyle. The fire is why Tommy needed to become the school janitor. Tommy is a charming character who doesn’t give a hoot about his financial loss. He always seems to find the silver lining. In the case of losing his farm he chooses to concentrate on his good luck that his wife and children were not hurt. Although he worried that his children might be embarrassed that their dad was their school’s janitor, he had no reason to worry for they were not at all. How could they with a father of such character? Unlike Lucy and her siblings, they all grew up just fine. Tom’s spirit is something I strive to emulate.
In “Windmills,” Stout once again returns to the kindness of people. The Nicely sisters who were teens in “Lucy” are now older women. Patty Nicely works as a high school guidance counselor who has Kathy’s (Lucy’s older sister’s) daughter as a student. The girl is as angry as her mother, and is awful to her, letting her know that she is known as “Fatty Patty” by the students. Still, Patty sees the girl’s pain under her mean girl façade and helps her get into college. However, in “Cracked,” Patty’s sister, Linda Nicely, is just the opposite of her sister Kathy. She seems to have sold her soul to the devil in order to live in wealth with a home that is filled with Picassos, as well as a creepy husband. (If I explain why he is creepy it would be a spoiler.)
In her newest work Strout remains a master in writing about complex family bonds. Her stories focus on class differences, and how class bias can influence our behaviors, either positively or negatively. Amazingly she can convey all of this in one sentence with very few words. She is concise, a rare talent. Although Stout is a superb writer, I feel that it might be easier to connect to her characters in “Anything” if you first read “Lucy.” Knowing the background of a character usually entices the story. Still, these short stories can stand alone, and I highly recommend reading this novel, as well as all of Strout’s works. She has never failed to entertain me while broadening my understanding of human complexities.
Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read