Elizabeth Strout invites us to visit small-town Illinois in Anything is Possible. It’s like being the new guest at your sister-in-law’s summer picnic. You meet one person, and spend a little time together. When they’re done telling you a story, you’re spun among the guests to another person.
That new person is connected to the first, but the tale they tell doesn’t directly follow from the last person’s story. And so on. And so on. By the end of the picnic, you’ve heard a lot of stories, and learned how people are connected to each other in this area. But you haven’t met people you’ll think much about in the future.
Some of Strout’s stories are fairly interesting, while others are equally dull. More often than not, the focus was on their varied relationships. However, none of the narratives grabbed me by the picnic basket and pulled me fully into them.
I read Anything is Possible because my IRL book group chose it. They’d read Strout’s earlier book, My Name is Lucy Barton, in 2017. It’s Lucy’s home County that figures in most of these stories. And I confess, I might have liked Anything more if I’d read the earlier book.
Nevertheless, Strout’s writing is high-caliber, even when her characters are down-to-earth. Her themes are universal, encompassing life, love, family, loss, and a bit about dying. Anything is Possible takes us back to a simpler time, without political undertones and heavy social media presence. But don’t assume it lacks drama. Strout delivers plenty of that, in a subtle and low-key way.
This was an enjoyable way to spend a few listening hours. I won’t hesitate to read more of a Strout’s work. In fact, I have her Olive Kitteridge on my shelf, ready to read. Our book group will likely have an interesting discussion about this one, too. But was it a truly memorable book? No, not for me.