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Wonderful. A tonic. Exquisite writing. I admire the sheer honesty and emotional precision displayed by the author. I can only describe the experience of reading this book as a moral relief. I had thought no one cared any more for the ordinary life and the exquisite nuances of the human condition.
which he’d inherited from his father, and which was about two miles from the town of Amgash, Illinois.’
I started my Elizabeth Strout reading journey with ‘Oh William!, then read ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’, and went straight into ‘Anything is Possible’.
I felt like I was meeting some old friends as I read some of these interconnected stories. ‘The Sign’ is my favourite of the stories, learning about Tommy Guptill and seeing Lucy Barton through his eyes. I worried about Lucy’s brother and wondered about her sister. And in each of these stories, I felt like I was meeting real people, not fictional creations. Some of their choices intrigued me, as did some of the memories that people have of others. In ‘Sister’, I learned more about Lucy’s background and upbringing as she and her siblings meet. Stories filled with memories and shaped by connections to others. These stories are bleak in places, sometimes filled with kindness and with hope. We see different aspects of Lucy Barton and meet some of those who looked out for her.
And now I am going to seek out more of Ms Strout’s work.
5★ Disclaimer. Elizabeth Strout is one of my favourite writers and I loved My Name Is Lucy Barton, so I was predisposed to enjoy this. And I did. She catches people when they are most vulnerable.
Lucy, her family and other townsfolk she and her mother reminisced about in the previous book feature in separate stories and occasionally appear in each other’s. Whether you connect all the dots or not doesn't really matter, but of course when you do make the connections, it multiplies the enjoyment. Ah, so THAT's why that man did that!
It’s a bit like being in a strange town, sitting at a sidewalk café with a local who points out various passers-by and fills you in on who’s related to whom. You don’t need to know them to get the gist of who they are and enjoy the gossip about them.
Strout’s people are captured almost like deer in the headlights. They aren’t expecting anyone to look at them too closely and they don’t welcome it. They turn away, fearful of letting you get too close, but Strout manages to snap the picture before they escape. And she stops a few in their tracks until they blurt out something they’d managed to keep private until now.
Most of the people have their guard up and converse side-by-side, but now and then, without warning, something triggers and
“She looked straight into his eyes, and he saw it was her; he saw his sister.”
I’ve been startled like that myself with my family – that sudden feeling of deep familiarity instead of the usual everyday relationship.
Many of these people are outcasts who have felt unloved or unworthy of being loved. But sometimes, they find someone.
“Everyone, she understood, was mainly and mostly interested in themselves. Except Sibby had been interested in her, and she had been terribly interested in him. This was the skin that protected you from the world—this loving of another person you shared your life with.”
And then, of course, there are others, like this woman who
“. . . would have liked her own husband, whose intelligence had once impressed her so, to simply disappear.”
There are people affected by poverty, isolation, and war, particularly Vietnam.
“Many young people did not know the name of the war he had served in. Was it because it was a conflict instead of a war? Was it because the country in its shame had pushed this war behind it like a child who in public was still being obstreperous, embarrassing? Or was it just the way that history went? He did not know. . . .
‘Sorry, uhm, was that in the first Iraq?’ Then Charlie wanted to cry, he wanted to bawl, he wanted to bellow: ‘We did that and for what, for what, for what?’”
For what, for what, for what, indeed? But with all the questions about war and life, Strout's people still find comfort in each other.
Wonderful stories and people.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted (so quotes may have changed). .