Summary and book reviews of Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout X
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

An unforgettable cast of small-town characters copes with love and loss in this new work of fiction by #1 bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout.

Recalling Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.

Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother's happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the author's celebrated New York Times bestseller) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.

Reverberating with the deep bonds of family, and the hope that comes with reconciliation, Anything Is Possible again underscores Elizabeth Strout's place as one of America's most respected and cherished authors.

The Sign

Tommy Guptill had once owned a dairy farm, which he'd inherited from his father, and which was about two miles from the town of Amgash, Illinois. This was many years ago now, but at night Tommy still sometimes woke with the fear he had felt the night his dairy farm burned to the ground. The house had burned to the ground as well; the wind had sent sparks onto the house, which was not far from the barns. It had been his fault—­he always thought it was his fault—­because he had not checked that night on the milking machines to make sure they had been turned off properly, and this is where the fire started. Once it started, it ripped with a fury over the whole place. They lost everything, except for the brass frame to the living room mirror, which he came upon in the rubble the next day, and he left it where it was. A collection was taken up: For a number of weeks his kids went to school in the clothes of their classmates, until he could gather himself ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
1. Why do you think Elizabeth Strout chose to structure Anything Is Possible as a novel in the form of linked stories? How would your understanding of the book change if it had been written instead as a novel with a single narrative?

2. How does the town of Amgash feature in the text? How does it shape the lives of its residents? If Amgash had its own personality, how would you characterize it?

3. The past plays a strong role in these stories, and many of the characters find themselves struggling to reconcile with it. What are the various ways in which the past shapes them? How do they attempt to deal with their own pasts, and those of the people around them?

4. Strout deals with many different types of family relationships in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Strout's characters struggle: with infidelity, bullying, post-traumatic stress disorder, isolation, poverty, abuse and more. But despite all this, the tone of the book is as optimistic as its title suggests. What Anything is Possible lacks, however, is a strong unifying character to tie all its disparate strands together, in the way that Olive Kitteridge did.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review Members Only (494 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her latest work, Strout achieves new levels of masterful storytelling. Damaged lives can be redeemed but, as she eloquently demonstrates in this powerful, sometimes shocking, often emotionally wrenching novel, the emotional scars can last forever.

Booklist

Starred Review. 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.

Library Journal

Starred Review. With her latest work, Pulitzer Prize winner Strout (for Olive Kitteridge) crafts a deep and complex inside view of the hearts and minds of individuals who make up a community.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Another powerful examination of painfully human ambiguities and ambivalences - this gifted writer just keeps getting better.

Reader Reviews

Julie M

Elizabeth Strout Does It Again
Anything is Possible is the sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton which I absolutely loved, and I was worried that it could only be disappointing in comparison. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This book is even better than the first. I took some minor...   Read More

Kathy K.

Solid Read - Not Strout's Best
I have read most of Strout's novels and short story collections, but had not read My Name is Lucy Barton prior to reading Anything Is Possible. While I typically don't enjoy short stories as much as novels, I was excited to read this as I love Olive ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Evolving Definition of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a central theme in Elizabeth Strout's novel Anything is Possible, a condition clearly experienced by Vietnam vet, Charlie Macauley, but also by other characters. Returning to Amgash, the scene of her abusive childhood, causes Lucy Barton to have a full-blown panic attack. Lucy's parents may also have suffered from PTSD – her father as a result of service in World War II, and her mother from her own abusive family background, suggested in Strout's previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, when Lucy's mother cannot touch her own daughter and explains that growing up she never slept but only catnapped.

PTSD was first officially recognized as a health condition in 1980, five years after the end of...

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