Tommy Guptill had once owned a dairy farm, which he’d inherited from his father, and which was about two miles from the town of Amgash, Illinois.
Oh my, the good folk of Amgash, Illinois are an unhappy bunch. Thank goodness it is a fictional town!
Poverty, illness, domestic abuse, divorce, PTSD, secrets and affairs are all common occurrences in Anything is Possible. I know we all have our burdens to bear and difficult times, but for anyone living in Amgash, these trials and tribulations seem to be endless and enduring. It’s not just that love is imperfect; it’s flawed, destructive and often completely missing from the equation.
Take Tommy Guptill who begins this tale.
The reason why he once owned a dairy farm is because said dairy farm burnt down to the ground many years ago, causing him to move his family into town so he could take up the job of janitor at the local school. For those paying attention, yes this is the same, very kind (unnamed) janitor from My Name is Lucy Barton, who used to let Lucy stay behind after school in the warm classrooms.
It was not Tommy’s nature to regret things, and on the night of the fire – in the midst of his galloping fear – he understood that all that mattered in this world were his his and his children, and he thought that people lived their whole lives not knowing this as sharply and constantly as he did.
Tommy makes it his business to check in on Pete Barton, living alone in his old family home, every now and again. When he had the dairy farm, the Barton’s were his neighbours. He remembers Pete’s sister Lucy fondly and is very proud of her success as an author. But it is the secret that Pete reveals about the night the dairy farm burnt down that upsets Tommy’s memories of the past.
Like the two Olive Kitteridge books, in Anything is Possible, Strout gives us stories from various characters in Amgash that usually have a connection to Lucy Barton somehow. We catch glimpses of Lucy through their memories, but mostly each story is about their particular lot in life. It would seem that Lucy and Annie Appleby, the two who escaped their life in Amgash at a young age, are the only two who are successful and relatively happy in life.
We catch up with one of Kathie Nicely’s daughters’, Patty, who has become friends with Angelina Mumford, bonding over their emotional upheaval after their respective parents separated and divorced. Although for Angelina, her mother Mississippi Mary, didn’t leave until age 74, when she moved to Italy and married someone twenty years younger. Mary is another character who only finally found happiness and love by leaving Amgash.
Patty read Lucy’s book and was deeply moved by her ability to still love both her parents even after everything that had happened.
But Lucy loved them, she loved her mother, and her mother loved her! We’re all just a mess, Angelina, trying as hard as we can, we love imperfectly, Angelina, but it’s okay.
By the end of Anything is Possible though, I wasn’t so sure I agreed with this sentiment anymore.
There is imperfect love and then there is dysfunction. Lucy’s family was a dysfunctional family – poverty, abuse and neglect both psychological and emotional. The one chapter devoted to Lucy’s return to visit her brother and sister only highlighted that the effects of this dysfunction continued to impact on the lives of all three well into their adult lives.
This is not a happy story with a happy ending. My Name is Lucy Barton leaves the reader feeling hopeful that love and kindness have the potential to overcome anything. Anything is Possible leaves the reader feeling the exact opposite (or at least this reader) that anything may be possible in theory, but in real life, small-town USA, it probably isn’t.
Title: Anything is Possible Author: Elizabeth Strout ISBN: 9780241287972 Imprint: Viking (Penguin) Published: 4th May 2017 Format: Hardcover Pages: 272
This post was written on the traditional land of the Budawang clan, within the south coast Yuin group. Dhurga is the Aboriginal language spoken from Jervis Bay to Wallaga Lake.