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Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

I bought this book on my Kindle quite close to its publication date, but then it languished in the pile (and on a Kindle you don’t really notice the pile) until finally I needed something good to read after trying (unsuccessfully) to get through Kim. As it turned out I was going to miss the Kim meeting anyway so I decided to cut my losses and move on.

I do like Elizabeth Strout – this one is another book of connected short stories.

Here is the blurb …

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

Her writing is fabulous and I love it when you get a glimpse of a character from another perspective – a bit like when you see someone you know well completely out of context. She writes about people whose lives are limited by lack – money, education, love, but in such a sympathetic way you feel you understand these people and are willing them onto better lives.

Now I need to read My Name is Lucy Barton (I have that on my kindle as well!) as I believe they are connected.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/23/anything-is-possible-elizabeth-strout-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/short-stories-review-anything-is-possible-20170511-gw2evz.html

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The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys - Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout

I came across this novel in a second hand book store in Albany. As I loved Olive KitteridgeI had to get this one (and it was only $5!).

Here is the blurb …

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

I have been battling my way through The Scarlet Letter (although that has picked up now I am passed the Customs House chapter) and I decided to have a break and read something that I wanted to read and not something that I had to read for one of my various book clubs. The Burgess Boys had been sitting on my book shelf for a few months and I decided to leap in. I read it in a couple of days. What Ms Strout does well is make unsympathetic characters sympathetic (almost). These characters are hard on themselves and each other – they’re strong on duty. Susan, in particular, seems to deny herself any of life’s comforts – her home is cold and unwelcoming. Although she seems to thaw a bit in her interactions with her elderly lodger. Jim has escaped Maine and does not want to be dragged back (and in fact his presence just makes thing worse for Zach). However, Jim’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel and it is his much belittled brother and sister who come to his rescue. Bob seems a bit lost – couldn’t take the pressure of the court-room and divorced – he is kind though although not particularly pro-active. Zach’s crime is the catalyst that sets things in motion for the Burgess family but also for the Shirley Falls community. This is a beautifully written story about family and community, about compassion and treating people with kindness and respect.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/13/the-burgess-boys-elizabeth-strout-review

http://www.npr.org/2013/04/03/175951129/burgess-boys-family-saga-explores-the-authenticity-of-imperfection

 

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Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

I selected this novel because one of the members of my Victorian Book club recommended it (we read Victorian novels). I really enjoyed it. It was like a series of short stories, but a few of the characters (like Olive) appeared in all of the stories. The novel had sad undertones and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I was in a dark patch in my life.

Olive Kitteridge: indomitable, compassionate and often unpredictable. A retired school teacher in a small coastal town in Maine, struggling to make sense of the changes in her life a’s she grows older. She is a woman who sees into the hearts of others, discerning their triumphs and tragedies.
We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and a young man who acts for the mother he lost – and whom Olive comforts by her mere presence, while her own son feels tyrannized by her overbearing sensitivities.
A penetrating, vibrant exploration of the human soul in need, Olive Kitteridge will make you laugh, nod in recognition, wince in pain and shed a tear or two.

The writing was excellent and the characters lived off the page. I will definitely be looking for other Strout novels.

Here is the review from the New York Times Olive Kitteridge

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