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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. ( )

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
brenzi0408
Aug. 15th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked this too. I really liked how Strout made connections between heartbreak and hope.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )