Title: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Genre: Short Stories; Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Source: Personal Collection
Summary (I tried to write this myself and failed. Here is the publisher’s summary):
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
I’ve struggled writing this review (just as I struggled writing the summary). The book is very good, but I am not sure I can adequately explain why. When this happens, I kind of want to just tell you to go read it but that wouldn’t make me a very good book blogger so I am giving this a shot.
This collection is an honest and heartbreaking look at life. It is beautifully-written but even more beautifully-developed. The characters, Olive and the rest of the town, and the keen insight into human interactions are what make this so good. Its Pulitzer is well-deserved.
Olive is woven in and out of the stories; sometimes she has the lead and sometimes she just makes a quick appearance. While the town is the obvious connection between all of the stories, naming the book Olive Kitteridge, a subtler move, makes the reader dig a little deeper.
The stories are sometimes sad, in the way that people stuck in a small town are so often portrayed as sad. People seem trapped by the lives they’ve made for themselves, but when we finally leave Crosby, we see more of the same.
If you haven’t already, I recommend picking up Olive Kitteridge. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.