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Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

I had high hopes for Anything is Possible, after enjoying Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and it didn’t disappoint.

In both books, Strout beautifully captured intimate moments of significance in the lives of her characters, pinpointing the moments when a relationship shifts.

Anything is Possible is a book of short stories connected by their characters, who might be central to one story and peripheral to another.

Family is a theme that runs through the book – both the perception that others might have of families and their social status, and the implications of these perceptions. The enduring impact of poverty hangs over characters, regardless of their future successes or material comforts.

In one story, siblings meet for the first time in more than a decade, but realise they cannot face their difficult past. In another, a family discovers their ill father’s secret, and struggles to come to terms with the newly-revealed truth of their past.

While the title of the book might hint at limitless possibilities, it seems that these possibilities are not always available to characters, who struggle to leave their pasts behind. One woman scornfully recalls how a boy had salvaged food from a bin to explain the rude behaviour of his relative, decades later.

Although there is much small town cruelty and characters are quick to cast harsh judgments, there are also moments of kindness and warmth.

There is the elderly Abel, who goes to lengths to retrieve his granddaughter’s lost toy pony, and finds an unexpected friend in the process, and a war veteran’s affection for his mistress, in a situation in which resentment might have been the obvious response. In another story, a man who has suffered through the actions of his neighbour befriends that neighbour’s son. Here, understanding takes the place of anger.

In Strout’s stories, characters are flawed and complex, responding and communicating in ways that are often surprising. Perhaps that is what Strout is alluding to in the title of the book – when it comes to human interaction and behaviour within relationships, anything is possible.

While there was no great or memorable climax in Anything is Possible – I have a feeling that I will forget what the stories were about within weeks – it was a book that I wanted to keep reading, finding out more about these characters and the way they responded to the life before them.

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