Anything is Possible. Short Stories by Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy appeared everyone in my Twitter timeline last year with praise from various bloggers and readers whose taste in contemporary women’s fiction I blindly trust. Back then I was curious about the book though not enough to buy it up at my local bookshop, but when I saw the Spanish translation for Anything is Possible (Todo es posible, Duomo 2017 translated by Rosa Pérez) at my local library I felt it was just the right time to finally read Strout.

The first surprise came when I opened Anything is Possible and I found out it was a collection of short stories considered the second instalment in the fictional Amgash series that follows Lucy Barton’s life and the people in her native town. One of the side effects of studying literature is that I often went into reading books knowing quite a lot about the author, the historical setting, and even the story itself. So ever since I am allergic to learning too much about a book before reading it. I love diving into the story completely fresh and with an open mind, and sometimes the book you borrowed from the library ends up being a short story collection. Well, even better. I had not read one in ages.

Spanish may be my native language, but culturally I have always felt attracted to stories set in foreign countries, especially in English-speaking ones and contemporary American literature has a special place in my heart. Strout’s Anything is Possible is as American as any fictional work can be. The Midwest setting explores the complexities of one of the country’s largest and most undervalued regions. Escaping from NYC’s bright lights and LA’s glamour, the Midwest stands as the big unknown, a place where life happens and ordinary people lead ordinary lives. Strout rebels in this assumption and explores exposing the beauty of living in the everyday, ordinary struggles of working-class people.  As a working-class reader, I am always wary of the portrayal of the working-class experience, but Strout does not glamourise poverty or economic struggles and instead does a brilliant job at finding joy – not happiness – in everyday routines, the community, and the mere fact of being alive.

At the centre of these stories is Lucy Barton, now a renowned writer living in NYC who has not been back to her native town in several years. I did not know about this when I picked the book up – in fact, I thought Lucy Barton would not be present at all here. The second surprise then came when I realised that each and every one of the people in these stories were connected to each other. Lucy is not the main character, but she is always present, haunting the lives of her brother, her friends, their cousins, and even people she once went to high school with whose lives have not been exactly how they planned them to be, but are beautiful nonetheless.

It is hard to review a short story collection without giving too much away, and it would be simply boring to analyse each of the stories. Instead, Anything is Possible will remain with me as a collection of stories that celebrate being alive despite the dark times, the struggles, and the doubts, and the beautiful possibility of everything suddenly changing and bringing unexpected thoughts, feelings, and paths. Because, as the title says, anything is possible.

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