Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: Hope for the Hopeless

"But this was life! And it was messy!"
After Elizabeth Strout wrote My Name is Lucy Barton she was moved to tell the stories of the hometown characters Lucy and her mother had talked about, resulting in Anything is Possible.

In Strout's prize-winning book Olive Kitteridge each character is touched by Olive; in Anything is Possible it is Lucy Barton who provides the context for each story.

The suffering behind the stories made my heart ache. Poverty, abuse, deep loneliness, and loveless lives have left their marks on these characters. And yet--and yet--their resilience is rewarded with moments of grace, a nod of understanding, friendship offered unexpected--the small gifts that shed a ray of hope that life can be different.

As I was reading Strout I was also reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I noted similarities between the books: crushing childhood poverty, resilience, and an understanding that being truthful about life isn't pretty.

Lucy's sister Vicky asks Lucy why she doesn't write the truth of what happened to their family. Who'd want to read that story? their brother Pete asks. I would, Vicky replies. I was reminded of a scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn where Francie's teacher tells Francie to write pretty stories, not stories about drunkenness and poverty, the stories of Francie's real life. The question always is, do writers tell the truth or 'pretty' life up? Strout has decided that life is messy, and yet, as Pete tells Vicky, we don't turn out so bad in spite of it.

It is Strout's honesty that is unsettling and moving. By entering these character's lives we learn compassion. We walk in their shoes for a while and they become more than a recluse, or a fat lady, or the poor kids who ate from dumpsters.

The best part is the compassion these characters have for each other. Lucy's brother Pete remarks that their mother 'just wasn't made right,' and Lucy agrees but adds, "She had grit. She hung in there."

At a time when Americans are trying to understand the force behind popularism and the political climate, we are turning to literature to understand the experiences of those who are from different backgrounds. Forget some of the over-marketed best sellers. Read Strout.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Anything is Possible
Elizabeth Strout
Random House
Publication date: April 25, 2017
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 9780812989403

"Radiant...Class prejudice remains one of Strout's enduring themes along with the complex, fraught bonds of family across the generations...Another powerful examination of painfully human ambiguities and ambivalences--this gifted writer just keeps getting better." Kirkus Reviews