Anything Is Possible: A Novel by Elizabeth StroutAnything Is Possible: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible: A Novel

byElizabeth Strout

Hardcover | April 25, 2017

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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.

Winner of The Story Prize • A Washington Post and New York Times Notable Book • One of USA Today’s top 10 books of the year

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.

Praise for Anything Is Possible

“When Elizabeth Strout is on her game, is there anybody better? . . . This is a generous, wry book about everyday lives, and Strout crawls so far inside her characters you feel you inhabit them. . . . This is a book that earns its title. Try reading it without tears, or wonder.”USA Today (four stars)

“Readers who loved My Name Is Lucy Barton . . . are in for a real treat. . . . Strout is a master of the story cycle form. . . .  She paints cumulative portraits of the heartache and soul of small-town America by giving each of her characters a turn under her sympathetic spotlight.”—NPR

“These stories return Strout to the core of what she does more magnanimously than anyone else.”The Washington Post

“In this wise and accomplished book, pain and healing exist in perpetual dependence, like feuding siblings.”The Wall Street Journal
Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge; the #1 New York Times bestseller My Name Is Lucy Barton; The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller; Abide with Me, a national bestseller and Book Sense pick; and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the...
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Title:Anything Is Possible: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 8.55 × 5.73 × 0.92 inPublished:April 25, 2017Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0812989406

ISBN - 13:9780812989403

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it Although I'm not a huge fan of short stories, I really enjoyed this. She is a great story writer!!
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing book! Another shift from the usual books I review, this is a lovely story of lives intertwined and the history of a family across generations. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alice McDermott weaves a tale that captured me from the first page. Told from the view point of aged children of long dead parents, the reader is taken back several generations in time to hear the lives and deaths grandparents and great grandparents along with the ever present nuns that nurse and carry them through their lives. A time long past now, but beautifully painted for modern day readers. I was particularly moved by the role the nuns played in the characters lives. Real women who literally and figuratively nurse and care for their flock, they reveal a depth of understanding and empathy that the other characters can only try to strive for. These women understand far more about sin and love than the reader may first believe. Touching on the themes of redemption, loss, and forgiveness overshadowed with the unmentionable "sin" of mental illness, this is an amazing book.
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed this Pretty taken aback with some of the negative reviews here because I loved this book. I found her depiction of adolescence to be pretty bang on and I was actually intrigued by the way she avoided directly detailing what had caused Cassie to spiral. This is how these things happen......friends drift, secrets are kept and it can be hard to tell what exactly happened. I also found Messud's writing particularly beautiful in this novel and often found myself stopping mid sentence to appreciate it.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good book! The structure of this book is the same as other Strout books I have read. Each chapter reads like a short story, and all the chapters and stories are interlinked. The characters often have a sad or even tragic element, and yet a surprising number of them overcome tremendous odds and go on to have relatively successful lives. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-09-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Do not bother This book is boring, predictable, and does not go into detail of what should have been the important reasons of the one girl self destructing (stepfather and mommy issues). Summer Sisters, In The Likely Event (both by Judy Blume), and The Body by Stephen King handled coming of age stories a hundred times better than this stinker.
Date published: 2017-09-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good I really enjoyed this light reading book.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Strout is a master There's something about Strout's writing that draws me in every time. Even though each chapter revolved around a different character, there was a fluidity and connectedness to the story. The characters are so real, complex and flawed; I feel like reading Strout is the study of human nature.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Portraits of Small Town Life "Anything is Possible" is not so much a novel as a series of vignettes about small town life. The characters in each chapter are all related in some way to the characters in other chapters, and all are related to Lucy Barton of Strout's previous book "My Name is Lucy Barton". Strout's writing is first rate and each chapter flows nicely. I enjoyed the book and fans of Strout's previous books will enjoy it as well.
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good book Enjoyed reading this book. More of a collection of short stories with characters linked to each other. I do admit that a few times it took a while to remember who the character was or was related to. Good read.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Emotional Loved the characters and plot in this story, really good
Date published: 2017-05-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout Linked stories from Lucy Barton's home town and the people that made up the town. First story features Charlie, former maintenance man at the school the Barton children attended, an elderly man who remembers Lucy and tried to be kind to her, though many didn't. The Barton's too poor and in fact Lucy's brother Pete still lives alone, in the dilapidated house of his youth. Charlie makes a point to visit this lonesome and strange man though he has good reason to write the whole family off as you will see when you read this wonderfully thought out novel.
Date published: 2017-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully written, a really lovely collection of short stories A solid 3.5 star read. I've taken a few days to reflect on this book before writing my review. Just as with My Name Is Lucy Barton - I understand that the strength in this book is in the story-telling and writing. Elizabeth Strout is a master at her craft; she is able to create distinct voices: individual stories that don't shy away from discussing loss, love, redemption, hope. When I read "My Name is Lucy Barton" (in anticipation of this book actually), I spent my time torn between loving the writing and sometimes finding myself disconnected with the story. That wasn't the case with this book. A collection of short stories; we re-visit characters Lucy and her mother briefly introduced us to in the first book. I really enjoyed the fact that not only were we re-introduced to characters, but that each short story led towards another one - Patty Nicely calling her sister Linda - then we read Linda's story. Patty and Angelina Mumford being friends, and then following Angelina to Italy as she comes to terms with decisions her mother has made. Each story leads into another, one story wrapping up loose ends from the other. It's a brilliant way to keep the reader interested in everyone, even if you may not like them very much. My favourite character was Pete Burton. Haunted by the past, attempting to move forward, but stuck. Not afraid of what's new, but simply not ever learning his role in the present. When he went and got his hair cut, but didn't know if he was meant to leave a tip; the desperation of not getting it right, of offending someone simply because he really didn't know ... it broke my heart. I could read an entire book of Pete Burton stories and never have enough. I'd like to say it's a stand-alone book, but I think you'd miss some of the magic of re-discovering the people Lucy grew up with. Recommended to be read immediately after "My Name is Lucy Barton" - you won't be disappointed. Recommended read. (if you enjoy this book, I highly recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest - they are similar in that they aren't afraid to discuss sadness and fear, loss, love and second-chances).
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from an Eco love story... A coming-of-age novel that explores some of the earth-vs.-people issues currently polarizing the environmental movement. Lyrical and soul-searching.
Date published: 2007-03-11

Read from the Book

The SignTommy 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 and the little money he had; he sold the land to the neighboring farmer, but it did not bring much money in. Then he and his wife, a short pretty woman named Shirley, bought new clothes, and he bought a house as well, Shirley keeping her spirits up admirably as all this was going on. They’d had to buy a house in Amgash, which was a run-­down town, and his kids went to school there instead of in Carlisle, where they had been able to go to school before, his farm being just on the line dividing the two towns. Tommy took a job as the janitor in the Amgash school system; the steadiness of the job appealed to him, and he could never go to work on someone else’s farm, he did not have the stomach for that. He was thirty-­five years old at the time.The kids were grown now, with kids of their own who were also grown, and he and Shirley still lived in their small house; she had planted flowers around it, which was unusual in that town. Tommy had worried a good deal about his children at the time of the fire; they had gone from having their home be a place that class trips came to—­each year in spring the fifth-­grade class from Carlisle would make a day of it, eating their lunches out beside the barns on the wooden tables there, then tromping through the barns watching the men milking the cows, the white foamy stuff going up and over them in the clear plastic pipes—­to having to see their father as the man who pushed the broom over the “magic dust” that got tossed over the throw-­up of some kid who had been sick in the hallways, Tommy wearing his gray pants and a white shirt that had Tommy stitched on it in red.Well. They had all lived through it.This morning Tommy drove slowly to the town of Carlisle for errands; it was a sunny Saturday in May, and his wife’s eighty-­second birthday was just a few days away. All around him were open fields, the corn newly planted, and the soybeans too. A number of fields were still brown, as they’d been plowed under for their planting, but mostly there was the high blue sky, with a few white clouds scattered near the horizon. He drove past the sign on the road that led down to the Barton home; it still said SEWING AND ALTERATIONS, even though the woman, Lydia Barton, who did the sewing and alterations had died many years ago. The Barton family had been outcasts, even in a town like Amgash, their extreme poverty and strangeness making this so. The oldest child, a man named Pete, lived alone there now, the middle child was two towns away, and the youngest, Lucy Barton, had fled many years ago, and had ended up living in New York City. Tommy had spent time thinking of Lucy. All those years she had lingered after school, alone in a classroom, from fourth grade right up to her senior year in high school; it had taken her a few years to even look him in the eye.But now Tommy was driving past the area where his farm had been—­these days it was all fields, not a sign of the farm was left—­and he thought, as he often thought, about his life back then. It had been a good life, but he did not regret the things that had happened. It was not Tommy’s nature to regret things, and on the night of the fire—­in the midst of his galloping fear—­he understood that all that mattered in this world were his wife and his children, and he thought that people lived their whole lives not knowing this as sharply and constantly as he did. Privately, he thought of the fire as a sign from God to keep this gift tightly to him. Privately, because he did not want to be thought of as a man who made up excuses for a tragedy; and he did not want anyone—­not even his dearly beloved wife—­to think he would do this. But he had felt that night, while his wife kept the children over by the road—­he had rushed them from the house when he saw that the barn was on fire—­as he watched the enormous flames flying into the nighttime sky, then heard the terrible screaming sounds of the cows as they died, he had felt many things, but it was just as the roof of his house crashed in, fell into the house itself, right into their bedrooms and the living room below with all the photos of the children and his parents, as he saw this happen he had felt—­undeniably—­what he could only think was the presence of God, and he understood why angels had always been portrayed as having wings, because there had been a sensation of that—­of a rushing sound, or not even a sound, and then it was as though God, who had no face, but was God, pressed up against him and conveyed to him without words—­so briefly, so fleetingly—­some message that Tommy understood to be: It’s all right, Tommy. And then Tommy had understood that it was all right. It was beyond his understanding, but it was all right. And it had been. He often thought that his children had become more compassionate as a result of having to go to school with kids who were poor, and not from homes like the one they had first known. He had felt the presence of God since, at times, as though a golden color was very near to him, but he never again felt visited by God as he had felt that night, and he knew too well what people would make of it, and this is why he would keep it to himself until his dying day—­the sign from God.Still, on a spring morning as this one was, the smell of the soil brought back to him the smells of the cows, the moisture of their nostrils, the warmth of their bellies, and his barns—­he had had two barns—­and he let his mind roll over pieces of scenes that came to him. Perhaps because he had just passed the Barton place he thought of the man, Ken Barton, who had been the father of those poor, sad children, and who had worked on and off for Tommy, and then he thought—­as he more often did—­of Lucy, who had left for college and then ended up in New York City. She had become a writer.Lucy Barton.Driving, Tommy shook his head slightly. Tommy knew many things as a result of being the janitor in that school more than thirty years; he knew of girls’ pregnancies and drunken mothers and cheating spouses, for he overheard these things talked about by the students in their small huddles by the bathrooms, or near the cafeteria; in many ways he was invisible, he understood that. But Lucy Barton had troubled him the most. She and her sister, Vicky, and her brother, Pete, had been viciously scorned by the other kids, and by some of the teachers too. Yet because Lucy stayed after school so often for so many years he felt—­though she seldom spoke—­that he knew her the best. One time when she was in the fourth grade, it was his first year working there, he had opened the door to a classroom and found her lying on three chairs pushed together, over near the radiators, her coat as a blanket, fast asleep. He had stared at her, watching her chest move slightly up and down, seen the dark circles beneath her eyes, her eyelashes spread like tiny twinkling stars, for her eyelids had been moist as though she had been weeping before she slept, and then he backed out slowly, quietly as he could; it had felt almost unseemly to come upon her like that.But one time—­he remembered this now—­she must have been in junior high school, and he’d walked into the classroom and she was drawing on the blackboard with chalk. She stopped as soon as he stepped inside the room. “You go ahead,” he said. On the board was a drawing of a vine with many small leaves. Lucy moved away from the blackboard, then she suddenly spoke to him. “I broke the chalk,” she said. Tommy told her that was fine. “I did it on purpose,” she said, and there was a tiny glint of a smile before she looked away. “On purpose?” he asked, and she nodded, again with the tiny smile. So he went and picked up a piece of chalk, a full stick of it, and he snapped it in half and winked at her. In his memory she had almost giggled. “You drew that?” he asked, pointing to the vine with the small leaves. And she shrugged then and turned away. But usually, she was just sitting at a desk and reading, or doing her homework, he could see that she was doing that.He pulled up to a stop sign now, and said the words aloud to himself quietly, “Lucy, Lucy, Lucy B. Where did you go to, how did you flee?”He knew how. In the spring of her senior year, he had seen her in the hallway after school, and she had said to him, so suddenly open-­faced, her eyes big, “Mr. Guptill, I’m going to college!” And he had said, “Oh, Lucy. That’s wonderful.” She had thrown her arms around him; she would not let go, and so he hugged her back. He always remembered that hug, because she had been so thin; he could feel her bones and her small breasts, and because he wondered later how much—­how little—­that girl had ever been hugged.Tommy pulled away from the stop sign and drove into the town; right there beyond was a parking space. Tommy pulled in to it, got out of his car, and squinted in the sunshine. “Tommy Guptill,” shouted a man, and, turning, Tommy saw Griff Johnson walking toward him with his characteristic limp, for Griff had one leg that was shorter than the other, and even his built-­up shoe could not keep him from limping. Griff had an arm out, ready to shake hands. “Griffith,” said Tommy, and they pumped their arms for a long time, while cars drove slowly past them down Main Street. Griff was the insurance man here in town, and he had been awfully good to Tommy; learning that Tommy had not insured his farm for its worth, Griff had said, “I met you too late,” which was true. But Griff, with his warm face, and big belly now, continued to be good to Tommy. In fact, Tommy did not know anyone—­he thought—­who was not good to him. As a breeze moved around them, they spoke of their children and grandchildren; Griff had a grandson who was on drugs, which Tommy thought was very sad, and he just listened and nodded, glancing up at the trees that lined Main Street, their leaves so young and bright green, and then he listened about another grandson who was in medical school now, and Tommy said, “Hey, that’s just great, good for him,” and they clapped hands on each other’s shoulders and moved on.In the dress shop, with its bell that announced his entrance, was Marilyn Macauley, trying on a dress. “Tommy, what brings you in here?” Marilyn was thinking of getting the dress for her granddaughter’s baptism a few Sundays from now, she said, and she tugged on the side of it; it was beige with swirling red roses; she was without her shoes, standing in just her stockings. She said that it was an extravagance to buy a new dress for such a thing, but that she felt like it. Tommy—­who had known Marilyn for years, first when she was in high school as a student in Amgash—­saw her embarrassment, and he said he didn’t think it was an extravagance at all. Then he said, “When you have a chance, Marilyn, can you help me find something for my wife?” He saw her become efficient then, and she said yes, she certainly would, and she went into the changing room and came back out in her regular clothes, a black skirt and a blue sweater, with her flat black shoes on, and right away she took Tommy over to the scarves. “Here,” she said, pulling out a red scarf that had a design with gold threads running through it. Tommy held it, but picked up a flowery scarf with his other hand. “Maybe this,” he said. And Marilyn said, “Yes, that looks like Shirley,” and then Tommy understood that Marilyn liked the red scarf herself but would never allow herself to buy it. Marilyn, that first year Tommy worked as a janitor, had been a lovely girl, saying “Hi, Mr. Guptill!” whenever she saw him, and now she had become an older woman, nervous, thin, her face pinched. Tommy thought what other people thought, it was because her husband had been in Vietnam and had never afterward been the same; Tommy would see Charlie Macauley around town, and he always looked so far away, the poor man, and poor Marilyn too. So Tommy held the red scarf with the gold threads for a minute as though considering it, then said, “I think you’re right, this one looks more like Shirley,” and took the flowery one to the register. He thanked Marilyn for her help.“I think she’ll love it,” Marilyn said, and Tommy said he was sure she would.

Bookclub Guide

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 the book—between parents and children, between spouses, among siblings. How are these different types of relationships treated? What are the differences and similarities in the ways the characters navigate these relationships? Which ones resonated most with you, and why?5. An emotion that Strout addresses throughout Anything Is Possible is shame. What are the different roles shame plays for the various characters in these stories? How are they motivated, propelled, or hindered by shame? What effects does shame have on these characters’ sense of self and their relationships with others?6. Lucy Barton’s legend looms large in Amgash. How do we perceive her through the eyes of the characters in each of these stories? How do these impressions of her differ? When Lucy makes an appearance in “Sister,” did your perception of her change as Strout reveals the impact of Lucy’s absence on her siblings?7. Strout portrays wealth and/or poverty through the changing circumstances of several of her characters: Linda Peterson-Cornell; Abel Blaine; Abel’s sister, Dottie; Tommy Barton and his sister Vicky. How do these characters react to their economic circumstances? How do these circumstances shape their relationships to those around them, and how they are perceived?8. Many of the characters in these stories overcome adverse circumstances to experience moments of grace—Abel Blaine, Patty Nicely, and Angelina Mumford, for example. How do these moments of grace present themselves? Why do you think Strout decided to give her characters these opportunities for grace? How did this shape your understanding of these stories and characters?9. Was there a character or story that affected you more than the others? Which, and why?10. How did you interpret Strout’s choice of Anything Is Possible as a title, and how do you think this concept resonated with Abel Blaine in the last chapter of the book? 

Editorial Reviews

“When Elizabeth Strout is on her game, is there anybody better? . . . This is a generous, wry book about everyday lives, and Strout crawls so far inside her characters you feel you inhabit them. . . . This is a book that earns its title. Try reading it without tears, or wonder.”—USA Today (four stars) “Readers who loved My Name Is Lucy Barton . . . are in for a real treat. . . . Strout is a master of the story cycle form. . . .  She paints cumulative portraits of the heartache and soul of small-town America by giving each of her characters a turn under her sympathetic spotlight.”—NPR “These stories return Strout to the core of what she does more magnanimously than anyone else, which is to render quiet portraits of the indignities and disappointments of normal life, and the moments of grace and kindness we are gifted in response. . . . Strout hits the target yet again.”—The Washington Post “In this wise and accomplished book, pain and healing exist in perpetual dependence, like feuding siblings.”—The Wall Street Journal “Anything Is Possible confirms Strout as one of our most grace-filled, and graceful, writers.”—The Boston Globe “Anything Is Possible keenly draws a portrait of a small town where options are few, where everyone’s business is everyone’s business, and where verdicts rendered while young follow you your whole life. . . . It joins a vast genre, and elevates it.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune “Neither novel nor linked story collection strikes me as adequate terms to describe this book’s ingenious structure. . . . Strout’s sentence style fits these Midwestern folks and tales: straightforward while also seeming effortlessly lyrical, seeded both with humor and bitterness like many of our days.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel“Stunning . . . Strout, always good, just keeps getting better.”—Vogue“Full of searing insight into the darkest corners of the human spirit . . . Anything Is Possible is both sweeping in scope and incredibly introspective. That delicate balance is what makes its content so sharp and compulsively readable. . . . Strout’s winning formula . . . has succeeded once again. With assuredness, compassion and utmost grace, her words and characters remind us that in life anything is actually possible.”—San Francisco Chronicle“While we recommend everything by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer—like, say her recent book My Name Is Lucy Barton—this novel, which explores life’s complexities through interconnected stores, stands on its own. . . . It’s a joy to read a modern master doing her thing.”—Marie Claire “If you miss the charmingly eccentric and completely relatable characters from Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s best-selling My Name Is Lucy Barton, you’ll be happily reunited with them in Strout’s smart and soulful Anything Is Possible.”—Elle“Strout pierces the inner worlds of these characters’ most private behaviors, illuminating the emotional conflicts and pure joy of being human, of finding oneself in the search for the American dream.”—NYLON