Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Just over a year ago I read and reviewed My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. And now, I have read her most recent book, Anything is Possible. When I finished, I re-read My Name is Lucy Barton. These two books are so intertwined that they are almost one. I’d love to know how and why she wrote them as she did.
My Name is Lucy Barton tells the story of Lucy Barton, especially during a long stay in hospital when she was seriously ill. During this time her mother came to visit her – the only time she ever did so, with the story is told in the present time as Lucy and her mother re-visit the past. They discuss people they knew while Lucy was growing up, and what they may know of their present situation. There are things that Lucy did not understand as a child, but does now; maturity and life experience have changed the view. You feel from the beginning of this novel that you have stepped into Lucy Barton’s life and over a cup of tea, in a quiet peaceful room, she is telling you her story.
Anything is Possible takes place some years later. The family members, friends and neighbours introduced in the earlier novel are found again and their stories elaborated for us – not by Lucy Barton but by themselves. Each chapter, the voice of one or another, is seamlessly weaving the story, each characters life intertwined with the others.
What really struck me about this book is that you never really know most of the people you interact with each day. And, also, how much each of our childhood experiences have affected our adult lives. Especially those children who have not known love, and may never be able to function as normal adults. I thought about how important it is to simply be kind. There are so many really terrible things that happen in this life that are beyond our control, but there are others that are completely within our control, and we can attempt to make them better by thinking of how our actions affect ourselves and others. What we do and say can wound, or can ease a hurt. Maybe your kind words are the only kind words someone else will hear today.
Lucy Barton, as a child took comfort in books, they made her feel less alone. She becomes a writer so that she can do the same for others. We know exactly what she means – how often have we felt not only less alone but understood and comforted by what we have read.
Both of these novels are also about mothers and daughters, and the love they share, whether or not it is ever expressed. Lucy Barton in hospital – “I dozed on and off listening to my mother’s voice. I thought: All I want is this.” Such a simple thing, and somehow so impossibly hard for some. Truly the gift of an exceptional and insightful writer to put it all into words so profound and so simple.