‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout – “But this was life! And it was messy!”


‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout   (2017)  –   254 pages

‘Anything is Possible’ is a collection of linked stories about some of the people who live in a small town in Illinois and its surrounding rural area.  The structure is similar to Strout’s previous work ‘Olive Kitteridge’, although that work took place in New England.

By now Elizabeth Strout may be considered a master of the linked story structure. In each story we hear about incidental characters through the gossip and hearsay that is going around town.  Some of these side persons that are talked about get their own story later on.

The behavior of some of the well-to-do people as well as that of some of the dirt-poor people in this town is despicable.  A man sets his neighbor’s barn on fire because the neighbor had caught him masturbating outside.  A male patron of the arts secretly films, assaults, and nearly rapes a female artist houseguest.  Strout doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that neighbors are doing under the seemingly tranquil surface of the town.  This makes for some offbeat interactions as nearly everyone here has at least a fleeting acquaintance with their neighbors’ life stories.  And in a small town, a person’s life story lives on forever, even after death.

I suppose that is why many people including perhaps myself consider life in a small town awfully stifling.  Everyone knows and judges everyone else, and the gossip flies around.  It is difficult to break free of your family’s past, your own past, without leaving.  In ‘Everything is Possible’, Lucy Barton comes from the weirdest poorest family in town, and in Elizabeth Strout’s stories that means awfully bizarre.  However somehow she has managed to escape, lives in New York, and has now improbably become a best-selling author.  One of the stories depicts her return to town to visit her brother and sister who are still stuck in the town.  Of course the anonymity of a big city neighborhood can also have its disadvantages.  I suspect that even small towns aren’t as tightly-knit as they used to be or as they are made out to be in these stories.

Strout starts each story without any preliminary introduction or explanation.  We usually are thrown right in the middle of a conversation.  Part of the pleasure of each story for the reader is figuring out what the exact details of the situation are.  Usually the circumstances in the stories wind up being strange and messy, but that is the way life is.


Grade:   A- 


5 responses to this post.

  1. *chuckle* Exactly the sort of book to confirm my prejudices against small town life!



  2. Hi Tony – I’m in a big slump! Looking for something entertaining, but not stupid, if you know what I mean. If you have something along those lines that you really like, would you please post it as a comment on http://2manybooks2littletime.com? Thanks!!!



    • HI Jeanie,
      Entertaining, but not stupid. That’s a tall order!

      Here are seven I’ve read this year that met that requirement for me.
      ‘A Separation’ by Katie Kitamura
      ‘Miss Jane’ by Brad Watson
      ‘Everything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout
      ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ by David Grossman
      ‘The Refugees’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen
      ‘Transit’ by Rachel Cusk
      ‘Sudden Death’ by Alvaro Enrique
      For me, the big winner was ‘Miss Jane’ which I gave an A+, but all the others received A or A- grades.
      I posted this on your latest entry on your site too.



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