In my head, Elizabeth Strout is an American Alice Munro – sequestered away in a dusty town, sitting on her porch, scribbling away furiously as the minutiae of small town life plays out in front of her. A quick Google reveals that she lives in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, so that shows me. But what’s this? She grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. Which explains it. (It also explains why I kept thinking of my friend Katie as I read this, and have earmarked this book for her: we studied American Literature together more years ago than I care to count.)
Explains what, precisely? Strout’s Munro-esque eye for the tiniest, often insignificant, details which make us human. The fleeting things that you could so easily miss if you weren’t paying attention Strout, one feels, is always paying attention. Her characters are so real you expect to meet them on the street. She also has the rare gift of being the literary equivalent of being happy with a comfortable silence. Her words have space to breathe.
If you have encountered Strout before, it’s likely to be through her Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge and her most recent, My Name is Lucy Barton. Anything is Possible takes as its setting Lucy Barton’s hometown; indeed, she makes an appearance later in the book – and her novel is for sale in the local bookshop; characters reference it – but she is more of a leitmotif.
So this less a novel, more string of loosely-interconnected short stories. There’s no precise plot to speak of – and it’s pretty dark. But, oh, the writing sings. There is heartache, here. Disappointment. Lost dreams. Love in many forms ( and sex – often startling and unexpected. Her characters feel things most acutely – even if they are often unable to express them. I am making this sound relentlessly bleak – it’s not. There are flashes of happiness: Patty Nicely – one of Strout’s warmest characters – is married to a man with such a harrowing past it imprints itself on their relationship, which is itself cruelly curtailed. And yet…: “Having met in their late thirties, they’d had only eight years together. No children. Patty had never known a better man.” That’s a whole relationship, there in one sentence. Not to mention love and dignity.
TOTAL sidenote: The Estee Lauder Beam Team Hydrate + Glow (above) is genius. Use it all over to give skin a warm, just-back-from-the-beach glow – or just dot it along where your skin would naturally catch the sun. Flip the lid and there’s a concentrated dose of bronzer to add extra glow. My new favourite beauty product.
Top by Gap, £39.99.
Anything is Possible