In case you didn’t know this, my last month and a half have been hard. Death of a parent is a real foundation shaker. It made it nearly impossible for me to do many of the things I loved. And that included reading.
I know, right? It seemed antithetical to my very nature. But I couldn’t pick up a book and read. My mind wouldn’t stay focused, and reading really reminded me of my mom. She was the person who taught me to read, and showed me the beauty of books and the ability of books to just take you away.
(Note: I was still listening to books, which is a beautiful thing, and has soothed my soul a bit.)
But the drought is over. I made myself pick up my Kindle and went to a digital ARC I had been excited to read from one of my favorite authors: Elizabeth Strout.
I pretty much knew this would be medicine: the perfect balm to soothe my aching heart. Elizabeth Strout was what I needed.
Her latest book, Anything is Possible, is a collection of connected short stories. If you read My Name is Lucy Barton, this is a look into the people that filled her life growing up in a small Illinois town, into where they are present day.
Even if you haven’t read Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible is still great; these stories are beautiful character studies of people in a small town, people you meet everyday. But be prepared, you will probably want to read My Name is Lucy Barton — the references to her (and the story featuring her) will make you want to know more about Lucy.
Strout’s characters are so incredibly real. No one is perfect, no one is completely evil. She has way of putting all of them out there, writing about the most interesting and most vulnerable of characters in a beautiful way. Their thoughts and insights, hurts and slights and victories, are fully and completely fleshed out, making you feel like you know these people.
And Strout’s writing does that one other thing that all fiction should do: It makes the reader take a look around at others and wonder what makes them tick, and to look at them a little more sympathetically. There is something that triggered that woman to be so closed-hearted and mean, a reason that man is so insensitive and hateful, a root to that couple’s incredible sadness. Understanding might not change them, but it might make understanding them a little easier, and maybe help the rest of us change the way we treat each other.
Elizabeth Strout’s storytelling style is straightforward and open: she seems to go where the character takes her naturally. In Anything is Possible Strout does something that I wish more writers had the time or inclination to do — she takes time to explore and explain a few of the minor (or even incidental) characters from a novel. It’s a beautiful thing.
I can’t imagine anything better to soothe my heartache than Elizabeth Strout. I know I’m not the first adult child to lose a parent to cancer (I’m not even the first in this house), but it was a first for me. Anything is Possible helped me get back into one of the things that has always helped me through hard times — reading.