Debbie's Reviews > Anything Is Possible

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
8665845
Firecrackers in my soul!!!

Socks knocked off AGAIN! My feet are cold, but my soul is on fire. This collection of stories goes directly to my all-time-favorites shelf. Brilliant, just brilliant. I can barely sit still just thinking about it.

I wasn’t super hot to try this collection, because even though I gave My Name Is Lucy Barton 4 stars, I wasn’t all a-gush. I had loved its subtle tension and its introspection, but I had had sort of a hefty Complaint Board. My biggest gripes were that Lucy and her mom were too passive, and everything seemed a little too vague, like it was coated in Valium.

So when I heard that this book had to do with Lucy and the small town where she grew up, I was skeptical. What if passivity, vagueness, and boring country folks were the scene? What if my need for jazz and pizazz was again a “tough luck, kiddo”? But I was curious after reading umpteen-million gushing reviews.

When I started reading, though, a big “uh oh” slipped from my lips. The first story, BAM, there’s a barn and the God word. I don’t want any “oh, gosh” tractor talk and canned-peaches speak, please! I figured I was doomed. But despite my fears, I got totally drawn into the story and ended up loving it. Loneliness, secrets, guilt, memories, reaching out to strangers—these are things I remember when I think about this story. The dialogue is intense and brilliant, and the atmosphere is stark, and if you put the talk inside the stark you get high drama, even though there isn’t some big event making it happen. I fully expected to remain on a farm throughout the rest of the stories, but I was okay with it since story number 1 had been so powerful.

When I got to story number 2, though, it was a totally different vibe. It was about a guidance counselor. She was in a small town but there wasn’t any God or peaches. The small town was not the point. This story, too, was insightful, and I loved it.

Don’t worry, I won’t list stories number 3 through 9 and tell you the same thing, that it was oh so insightful and I loved it to death, yada yada, though both are true. One of the things that impressed me was how different each story is. The setting, the personalities, the theme, the vibe—all varied. How did Strout do this? The only word I come up with is genius. As I began each story, I wiggled with glee, oh who are we going to visit today? I couldn’t wait to get there. And I was never disappointed. Not only did I get to sit down in their living rooms, but I also got to sit down inside their heads—oh is that the beauty of literature or what?!

Strout has a way of making you feel like you really know these people she creates. Truly, she has amazing psychological insight, and as I implied, she is a master at letting you wander inside her characters’ heads. Her characters repress, express, ponder, hesitate, spill the beans, withhold, confess, get anxious or sad, and very occasionally find peace. Her stories all zero in on intense interactions—between a guidance counselor and a troubled student, a PTSD veteran and a desperate hooker, a grandfather and a crazed actor. These interactions are all buzzy and quiet at the same time.

Each story is self-contained and has closure (oh how I love closure), and yet they are interconnected in this cool way. I felt like I was looking at a high school yearbook, with a journalist (ha, or a gossip) sitting beside me, telling me in detail how each person turned out—or actually, taking me over to their house so I can see them in action. I must reread Lucy Barton because I’m dying to hear the gossip that I didn’t care about before. I’m all ears now.

Another miraculous thing is that each story has the depth of a novel. Strout serves up robust characters in a well-developed plot, and tops it off with a believable, satisfying, and often profound ending—and she does all this in the cramped span of a short story. Rich rich rich is all I can say.

I had my favorites, of course, though I can honestly say I loved every one of the stories. Okay, okay, if I had to say which one I liked least, it would be “Mississippi Mary,” which was about a daughter who goes to visit her mother in Italy. I figured out that it was my least favorite because it was about a mother-daughter relationship, and I had an epiphany: I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, so I don’t want to hear about mother-daughter stuff—good or bad. So, ta-da! I’m thinking that’s why I didn’t completely love My Name is Lucy Barton.

My absolute favorite story was “Sister,” which was about Lucy coming home to visit her brother and sister. (This was the only story about Lucy, even though she is mentioned in several stories.) There’s an odd story about a perverted husband, which is also high on my list, and a funny story about a pissed-off B&B owner. Another favorite was the last story, “Gift,” about a grandfather stuck in a room with a crazed actor. Oh my god was it great.

Time for a list of favorites (pulled from various stories):

Favorite scene: a woman having a panic attack

Favorite line:

"No one should be in a room with a man who's at the end of his rope."

Second favorite line:

“Don’t you go pissing down my back and then tell me it’s raining outside.”

This line is pretty cool, too:

“To listen to a person is not passive. To really listen is active, and Dottie had really listened.”

Can you tell this character is a little depressed?--

"You could buy a snow blower or a nice wool dress for your wife, but beneath it all people were rats scurrying off to find garbage to eat, another rat to hump, making a nest in broken bricks, and soiling it so sourly that one’s contribution to the world was only more excrement."

Here is one of my favorite dialogues. The funny thing is, the woman talking isn’t in the least crazy—she’s just pissed. And her comments totally make sense, though Dr. Small doesn’t know it:

“'Precisely what I said is what I mean. I offer guests a bed, and I offer them breakfast. I do not offer them counsel from lives they find unendurable.’ She closed her eyes briefly, then continued, ‘Or from marriages that are living deaths, from disappointments suffered at the hands of poor friends who regard their houses as a penis. This is not what I do.’”

“'Jesus,” said Dr. Small, who was backing away from her. “You’re a whackjob.'”


I could keep adding quotes but I don’t want my review to be any more gargantuan than it already is. I did get my jazz and pizazz, oh yes. And as far as I'm concerned, these stories are perfection. I don’t have even one item to put on my Complaint Board; it’s in the shed, collecting cobwebs.

I hope that this wasn’t Strout’s sole trip into short-story land; I want her to stay there. O’Henry, Cheever, Carver—move over. Her stories are as deep and wavy as the ocean. I really think I will remember them all.
119 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Anything Is Possible.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

December 18, 2016 – Shelved
December 18, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
October 28, 2017 – Started Reading
November 3, 2017 – Finished Reading
November 4, 2017 – Shelved as: all-time-favorites
November 4, 2017 – Shelved as: short-stories-read
November 4, 2017 – Shelved as: sibling-love-and-hate
November 4, 2017 – Shelved as: family-drama
November 4, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-best-reads
May 8, 2018 – Shelved as: favorite-short-stories

Comments Showing 1-50 of 60 (60 new)


message 1: by Dean (new) - added it

Dean Debbie, I totally agree with you!!!!
Dean;)


Karen Wonderful review Debbie! I loved this too!


Dana I loved it, too!


Debbie Dean wrote: "Debbie, I totally agree with you!!!!
Dean;)"


Thanks, Dean. Love it when people agree with me, lol.


Debbie Thank you Karen and Dana. So happy there is such a big gush club for this one! Twelve hours since I finished the book, and I’m still shaken. So, so good!!


Jaline Love your firecrackers, Debbie!! I loved this one, too, and look forward to reading your full review. Meantime - I "Like"ed your 5 Stars. Lo and behold - they match mine! :)


Debbie Jaline wrote: "Love your firecrackers, Debbie!! I loved this one, too, and look forward to reading your full review. Meantime - I "Like"ed your 5 Stars. Lo and behold - they match mine! :)"

Thanks, Jaline! I’m still just reeling from this book. Don’t know if any short story collection has made my all-time faves list before, but it’s a no-brainer that this book belongs there. Off to check your review...


Jaline Debbie wrote: "Thanks, Jaline! I’m still just reeling from this book. Don’t know if any short story collection has made my all-time faves list before, but it’s a no-brainer that this book belongs there. Off to check your review... "

This was my first experience with what seems to be called "connected short stories". I just had to read this one and now I'm looking for others I might like as well. :)


message 9: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro I should imagine one can't open doors in your house for all the socks that are lying around!
Looking forward to the review, Debbie.


Bianca Glad you liked it so much. Looking forward to your, hopefully, lenghty review.


message 11: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson I don't need a lengthy review. You got me at "socks off."


message 12: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen Wow! There's a visceral response. Love Strout - glad you enjoyed this one.


Debbie Kevin wrote: "I should imagine one can't open doors in your house for all the socks that are lying around!
Looking forward to the review, Debbie."


Lol. Two things: One, thank god they’re in pairs and haven’t fallen prey to the Dryer Ate One Sock phenomenon. Two, they are all clean, so the family is spared the dirty sock smell. I just have to pray that no one trips over them (does that sentence count as a third thing?)


Debbie Bianca wrote: "Glad you liked it so much. Looking forward to your, hopefully, lenghty review."

Ha, I’m sure it will be lengthy because that’s all I know! Thank you for liking my long-windedness!


Debbie Betsy wrote: "I don't need a lengthy review. You got me at "socks off.""

Thanks so much, Betsy. Have you read it? It’s sooo well-written. And each story has the impact of a full-length novel.


Debbie Jen wrote: "Wow! There's a visceral response. Love Strout - glad you enjoyed this one."

Thanks, Jen. Ha, I guess my response is pretty visceral. I’m so dramatic, lol.


Cheri Wonderful, Debbie! So glad you loved this. Strout is a favourite of mine!


message 18: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate Firecrackers in your soul?! Sounds great. I started reading Lucy Barton today and I'm loving it. Thanks for the inspiration! 🎇


Debbie Cheri wrote: "Wonderful, Debbie! So glad you loved this. Strout is a favourite of mine!"

Thanks, Cheri. I liked Lucy Barton but she hit it out of the park with this one. Just wow.


Debbie Kate wrote: "Firecrackers in your soul?! Sounds great. I started reading Lucy Barton today and I'm loving it. Thanks for the inspiration! 🎇"

Thanks, Kate. Ha, I know, funny image. Doesn’t quite make sense, but you get the drift!

I liked Lucy Barton but this one is in a class of its own. Of course, now I have to go back and reread Lucy Barton—I have to find out more about these characters!


JanB I agree, this is one of my all-time favorites too! Along with My Name is Lucy Barton and Olive Kitteridge by E Strout. I love them all.


message 22: by Crumb (new)

Crumb Wonderfully heartfelt review. ♥


Debbie JanB wrote: "I agree, this is one of my all-time favorites too! Along with My Name is Lucy Barton and Olive Kitteridge by E Strout. I love them all."


Thanks, Jan. I liked this one more than Lucy Barton, although now I want to reread Lucy. Just love all the intense characters here. A total masterpiece!


Debbie Crumb wrote: "Wonderfully heartfelt review. ♥"


Thanks so much, Crumb!


Jennifer House Interesting, big sissy. We read this in our big book club (as opposed to our little book club) and I reread Lucy Barton beforehand to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I gave this one a 4 star rating. A few loose ends here and a couple of "what is this doing here?" there, but overall I enjoyed it. I think the looking back aspect the most. My favorite line was from the chapter where he talked about hitting his finger with a hammer. Resonant on more than one level.


message 26: by Deanna (new) - added it

Deanna Great review! I'm excited to hear your thoughts :)


Debbie Jennifer Annan wrote: "Interesting, big sissy. We read this in our big book club (as opposed to our little book club) and I reread Lucy Barton beforehand to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I gave this one a 4 star ra..."

Glad you liked it a lot, too. I found one little “what is this doing here?” section, but otherwise I thought it was perfect. My favorite story was Sister (ha). Anyone who has a panic attack gets my attention! My favorite line was “No one should be in a room with a man who's at the end of his rope." Would have loved to have discussed this in a book group. Lucky you!


Debbie Deanna wrote: "Great review! I'm excited to hear your thoughts :)"

Thanks, Deanna! I’m working on it (got side-tracked with another review, sigh).


message 29: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Swann That's great to hear Debbie! I loved her last book so much. It was my first.


Angela M Terrific review, Debbie. I just loved how this complemented My Name is Lucy Barton . Felt like some questions not answered there were found here .


Debbie Sylvia wrote: "That's great to hear Debbie! I loved her last book so much. It was my first."

Thanks, Sylvia! You must try these stories, especially if you loved Lucy Barton!


Diane S ☔ Fantastic review, Debbie.


message 33: by Joe (new) - added it

Joe Valdez Great review, Debbie. I don't know if I'm the only one who doesn't want to read more of an author's work after I fall in love with one of their novels, in case their other work isn't good. Olive Kitteridge, which was also like a short story collection, was one of those novels. I just love Strout's no-bullshit, no sugar-coating howl at life. I'm adding this to my reading docket. Put the Complaint Board on hold.


Paromjit Outstanding review....just loved this short story collection Debbie xx


message 35: by Esil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Esil Fabulous review, Debbie. I preferred Lucy to this one, but both were great reads. Sister was definitely my favourite. I hope you put your socks back on. It's getting cold out there :)


message 36: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson Well, you've really made me reconsider. After reading The Burgess Boys and Olive Kitteridge, I'd decided her work just wasn't for me. ". . . too passive, and everything seemed a little too vague, like it was coated in Valium" is the perfect description. I wanted to light a fire and explode the unrealized humor in Kitteridge. And Burgess Boys left me tired. But I'll have to think about this some more. If I read two books by an author and can't get into them, no matter how famous they are and how many people adore them, I generally don't try again. But you've got me considering it, Debbie.


message 37: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Two observations you make are fantastic, Debbie:

"The dialogue is intense and brilliant, and the atmosphere is stark, and if you put the talk inside the stark you get high drama, even though there isn’t some big event making it happen."

"Strout has a way of making you feel like you really know these people she creates. Truly, she has amazing psychological insight, and as I implied, she is a master at letting you wander inside her characters’ heads. Her characters repress, express, ponder, hesitate, spill the beans, withhold, confess, get anxious or sad, and very occasionally find peace. Her stories all zero in on intense interactions..."

Just a wonderful review and even though I was already sold on these books by Strout you have certainly made me desire them a little more, Debbie.


Debbie Angela M wrote: "Terrific review, Debbie. I just loved how this complemented My Name is Lucy Barton . Felt like some questions not answered there were found here ."

I loved how they complement each other too. This one seemed deeper and more robust to me. Need to reread Lucy and hear the gossip, which should be a kick.


Debbie Diane S ☔ wrote: "Fantastic review, Debbie."

Thanks, Diane!


message 40: by Debbie (last edited Nov 15, 2017 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Debbie Joe wrote: "Great review, Debbie. I don't know if I'm the only one who doesn't want to read more of an author's work after I fall in love with one of their novels, in case their other work isn't good. Olive Ki..."

Thanks, Joe! I have the opposite problem—if I love a book I hope to continue the high by rushing to another book by the same author. This often ends badly. One crash after the high was when I read (and DNF’d) Bel Canto after reading the beloved State of Wonder. But here, oh I think you really can’t go wrong. Many people who loved Olive really loved this collection too. Hope you get to read it soon. Would love to hear your thoughts. Meanwhile, I really want to read Olive like right now.


Debbie Paromjit wrote: "Outstanding review....just loved this short story collection Debbie xx"

Thanks so much, Paromjit! I just can’t stop gushing about it (ha, as is obvious...)!


Debbie Esil wrote: "Fabulous review, Debbie. I preferred Lucy to this one, but both were great reads. Sister was definitely my favourite. I hope you put your socks back on. It's getting cold out there :)"

Thanks, Esil! Yeah, the tension in Sister was just unbelievable, and the car scene was genius. I better put the old socks back on, not because I need tootsie warmers, but because I need to wait for the amazing feeling of the socks being knocked off again. Could happen soon, as I’ve started (barely) The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It’s just yummy so far.


Debbie Betsy wrote: "Well, you've really made me reconsider. After reading The Burgess Boys and Olive Kitteridge, I'd decided her work just wasn't for me. ". . . too passive, and everything seemed a little too vague, l..."

I hope the pendulum in your head swings toward trying this one. But I hear you, two tries that don’t work usually scare me away from the author forever. I haven’t read the two Strout books that you did, but I definitely was not gushing after reading Lucy. But Anything Is Possible definitely did not seem coated in Valium. And there’s one really funny story, though it has a serious side too.


Debbie Mike wrote: "Two observations you make are fantastic, Debbie:

"The dialogue is intense and brilliant, and the atmosphere is stark, and if you put the talk inside the stark you get high drama, even though there..."


Thanks so much, Mike! I appreciate your reading my review so closely and liking those paragraphs. Hope hope hope you try this Strout book first!


message 45: by Diane (new)

Diane A wonderful and thoroughly entertaing review, Debbie!


Debbie Diane wrote: "A wonderful and thoroughly entertaing review, Debbie!"

Thanks so much, Diane. I aim to entertain, but I thought this review might be a little too serious. Glad you liked it!


message 47: by Diane (new)

Diane Oh not at all! I especially like the quotes you chose (don't go pissing down my back!). I'm a fan of Strout, even though I've only read 2 of her works so far. Your review really has me intrigued to mark this one TBR! You really took the time to talk about the stories individually, rather that just an overall review. Very well done!


Debbie Diane wrote: "Oh not at all! I especially like the quotes you chose (don't go pissing down my back!). I'm a fan of Strout, even though I've only read 2 of her works so far. Your review really has me intrigued to..."

Oh you’re so nice—thanks! I hope you can get to this one soon...and I hope it knocks your socks off too!


message 49: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim Puskas OMG, Debbie, why can you not just come out and say what you really think about a book? Seriously, this as about as over-the-top as it gets. Great stuff! However:::: What is your problem with small towns? Peaches? Tractors? Really? Small towns are often inhabited by very real and worthwhile people, and that's what small towns (and big ones) are composed of. I can assure you there are lots of puny-minded folks in big places too!
Regardless, I always appreciate your reviews.


Debbie Jim wrote: "OMG, Debbie, why can you not just come out and say what you really think about a book? Seriously, this as about as over-the-top as it gets. Great stuff! However:::: What is your problem with small ..."

I think I’ve just read too many Hallmarky books that are set in small towns, too many oh so wholesome scenes in the kitchen, ah shuckses, etc. It bores me. I don’t love tradition that much, or ceremonies, or religion, so that limits my enjoyment. But if the writing is stellar (like it is in this book) and the story is character-driven, I don’t care if it’s a small town. In real life, I don’t hate small towns. I like its sense of community, which the city and the ‘burbs lack.


« previous 1
back to top