Friday, August 14, 2009

Laura's Review - Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout
270 pages

Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel centers around Olive and Henry Kitteridge, an older couple living in a small town in Maine, grappling with aging and the changes in the world around them. Good friends have died; young people are a mystery. Their son Christopher has married and moved away. The novel is actually a baker's dozen of short stories, each featuring Olive in some way. Sometimes the story is all about Olive; at other times she is but a passing figure seen on the stairs or on a balcony, or a casual observer of another's life story.

Olive is a former middle school math teacher both feared and respected by her students. She's a large woman, grown even more so in her sixties and seventies. She has difficulty showing her emotions, keeping her son's estrangement to herself rather than sharing this grief with friends. She can also be a bit brusque and abrasive. But despite this I couldn't help liking Olive. The stories flow chronologically through Olive's later years. I found a few especially memorable:
  • Pharmacy: This is the first story, and introduces Olive and Henry and is also the only story focused primarily on Henry's thoughts and feelings. The reader meets Olive first from Henry's point of view.
  • Starving: An amazing story of Harmon, who is in a lifeless marriage with Bonnie and befriends another woman named Daisy. She helps him discover himself, and he takes a significant decision in hopes of happiness, but the story ends a bit unresolved.
  • A Different Road: A traumatic incident disrupts Olive and Henry's peaceful lives and has a lasting impact.
  • Security: Olive visits her newly-married son after a long time apart. They have difficulty relating to one another as adults and this further strains their relationship.
While each of these stories can stand on its own, this book is wonderful when read cover-to-cover, as a novel. Full of rich characters and emotional impact, it will remain with me for some time. ( )

My original review can be found here.


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

interesting review. thanks for bringing this book to my notice. love it.

J-rad said...

You know, I with you on liking Olive. She's simply...likable. However, the book as a whole is not going on my list of favorites. While I loved the style of seeing Olive from many differenet perspectives throughout the book and I loved the way the author creates her characters, I felt the book was too harsh. The cruelty of life was thrown in your face with no real suggestion for the correct way to deal with it. I guess I wanted Olive to be more of a heroine and less of a real person. I mean, that's the fun of fiction right? Life doesn't have to be just like it really is. You can tweak it to make a story fun and carry a beautiful message. But I felt like that didn't happen. I felt like the message of the book was, "Life's hard, where a helmet."