Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Not in Maine, but Elizabeth Strout's New Stories Have a Fascinating Town

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Not in Maine, but Elizabeth Strout's New Stories Have a Fascinating Town

Article excerpt

Elizabeth Strout is a master of devastating quiet in literature, of workaday tragedy.

"Anything Is Possible" is her sixth and most recent fiction about the inability to entirely overcome an impoverished or dysfunctional childhood; about "how much one forgot but then lived with anyway like phantom limbs."

Nearly a decade ago, Strout captured audiences with the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Olive Kitteridge," an eponymous collection of interconnected short stories concerning a misanthropic retired schoolteacher in small-town Maine. "Anything Is Possible" is another brilliant collection of linked short stories.

The new book is also a sequel (and in flashbacks, a prequel). Last year, Strout published the New York Times bestselling "My Name Is Lucy Barton." In that novel, Lucy is a 1980s writer in New York City hospitalized during a long illness. Lucy's mother visits for five days, and the two women gossip about neighbors in the hardscrabble town where Lucy grew up: Amgash, Ill.

In promotional material for "Anything Is Possible," Strout says, "It came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own story," and that, "the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me."

The opening story, "The Sign," re-establishes that "The Barton family had been outcasts, even in a town like Amgash, their extreme poverty and strangeness making this so."

Each story gently hopscotches from one Amgash resident to another: Lucy's innkeeper cousin, her brother and acquaintances "the way people in small towns know one another but don't know one another too."

The stories begin with gossip's blunt labels of scandal and loss: divorce, death, fire, infidelity, Vietnam. But Strout follows characters toward specifics: the bookstore where Lucy's memoir is sold, the high school Lucy's niece attends, the house Lucy grew up in, to nearby Peoria, Chicago's Drake Hotel, a Maine potato farm, a New Hampshire McMansion, and all the way to Bogliasco, Italy. …

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