BOOK: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008)

This quietly moving collection of short stories focuses on a small town in Maine (Crosby) and the wide variety of people who live therein.  Tying each story together is the Kitteridge family, a local clan headed by matriarch Olive, a retired schoolteacher with all the social graces of a chainsaw, and her husband Henry, a passive, loyal man who reacts to most of the world around him with a sweet sort of gentle bewilderment.

Not every story in this collection is about Olive, but every story features at least a glimpse of her in its periphery, and as we continue to read the various tales of the various residents in the town of Crosby, we come to know Olive very, very well.  She’s a hard, wise, straight-talking woman (in her mid-60’s as the book opens and aging as we go) who doesn’t believe in beating around the bush.   She lacks patience for empathy, at least externally, and appears to be a strong proponent of the “suck it up and press on” philosophy of coping.

The strange thing is, while I started the book bristling at Olive’s every move — few things pain me more than people who are mean to other people, even if it’s just by way of a natural lacking in the empathy department — by the final story, I was wrenchingly in love with her.   Underneath the armor casing her outsides is a woman all too painfully familiar with loss.  In fact, almost every story in this book, about her or not, is a story about loss of some sort:  lost love, lost children, lost chances, lost will.  And through it all, Olive remains wrapped up snug in her toughness, bruises buried deep, enduring, persevering, pressing on.  As I read, I kept thinking of something else I wrote a month or two ago, a description of a woman on my bus who I called (in my head) “Sourpuss.”  Olive Kitteridge looks just like Sourpuss to me.  Right down to the wrinkled creases of suffering folded up like gentle origami all over her face.

To say much more than this would, I think, spoil some of the power of this book, so I’ll save the details about the stories, the characters, and the actual fictions for you to discover on your own.  Suffice it to say I found this book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, brilliantly and movingly written, almost vibrating from a deeply woven rippling undercurrent of compassion for the world, and nearly impossible to put down once picked up.

Read this one.  Even if you think you don’t like short stories.  Just trust me.


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5 Responses to “BOOK: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008)”

  1. Trip Says:

    OT once again, but I can’t keep it in any longer. The release date is questionable, and it looks like an updated theft of the A-Team concept, but the cast is great and I giggled like a schoolboy watching this:

    That trailer is a hot steaming bowl of awesome.

  2. megwood Says:

    That actually looks ten times more fun than the upcoming A-Team movie. I am IN.

  3. Liz Says:

    Okay, I think this really says something – I don’t know what, but SOMETHING – about our Meg, and her wide-ranging interests. After that sensitive, almost somber, book write-up, to be so enthusiastic about this trailer that Trip has submitted…. I think I’d better not say what I used to think (and still do) about “The A Team,” “SWAT,” and shows like that. Besides, I think I recognized RDJ, and if I’m right, I’ll probably end up seeing this; I did like the part where the guy shoots people with his bare hands!

    BTW, Trip – still looking forward to YOUR list! Do you want any suggestions of cheesy quotes? Meg, you could make this a project for your group of followers, and ask for everyone’s one or two favorite cheesy lines.

  4. Trip Says:

    My first round is nearing completion…Meg will have it shortly!

  5. megwood Says:

    Hot diggity! Bring it on, Tripster. And then I’ll post it on the blog and people can add their own favorites in comments.

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