Anything Is Possible is the second book in Elizabeth Strout’s Amgash tetralogy, which consists of this book and three novels: My Name Is Lucy Barton; Oh, William; and Lucy by the Sea. Anything Is Possible was published March 27, 2018.
Unlike the other books in the series, Anything Is Possible is not a novel. This book is structured in nine linked short stories, all written in third person limited from the points of view of people who were minor characters in My Name Is Lucy Barton—people Lucy and her mother talked about while Lucy was in the hospital in the first book, or people Lucy remembered. Like Tommy Guptill, the janitor who let Lucy do her homework in a warm classroom after school and who now helps her isolated and lonely brother, Pete, in the story “The Sign,” and Patty Nicely, one of the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” who in the story “Windmills” is now a high school guidance counselor and who wants to help Lucy’s niece, Lila, escape Amgash like Lucy did. Patty Nicely, who Lucy barely knew, reads Lucy’s memoir and is changed by it: “All day she had the sense of having a piece of yellow-colored candy, maybe butterscotch, tucked inside the back crevices of her mouth, and she knew that this private sweetness came from Lucy Barton’s memoir. Every so often Patty shook her head and said ‘Huh’ aloud.”
My favorite story in the collection is “Sister,” which reunites Lucy and her siblings, Pete and Vicky. The story is told from Pete’s point of view as the brother who is left behind in their childhood home, while Vicky leaves home to make a family, and Lucy escapes the town altogether to become a celebrated author. This story is incredibly moving and seems so spot on with respect to siblings and their shared childhood trauma. It drives home the point that no one but your siblings can really understand what it was like living together under one roof as children. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.
At one point in the story, Vicky and Pete are driving home together, both frozen by the damaged childhoods they survived so that there is only so much they can do to support and love one another, no matter how much either of them might want it to be different. It is such a moving, touching scene. “Pete wondered … what it would be like to be that free, to touch people so freely. He would have liked—only not really—to put his own hand on his sister’s arm right now, this sister who had put lipstick on to see the famous Lucy. Instead he sat quietly next to her.” This line on its own breaks my heart, but in the context of the entire story, you will see, it does so much more.
What I love most about Elizabeth Strout’s writing is her interest, which I share, in the interconnectedness of human beings. She explores this in all of her characters. And I see that, by doing this, she is able to go much deeper, following her characters through transitions and different phases of life. She also gives us the gift of allowing us to see them through the eyes of others. In this book, we not only get Lucy Barton’s point of view, but because she becomes a famous writer, we get to see her through the eyes of people who knew her well, and even through the eyes of people who barely knew her but are aware of her because she is a known person and whose view of her may have changed (or not) after having read her book.
We also get to see how wrong Lucy and her mother were about some people—they are not privy to the private pain of others, being so understandably wrapped up in their own. The other stories in the collection explore not only the heartbreak of a childhood spent in extreme poverty but good and evil and the complicity of those desperate for something they can never have.