Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Published in 2008.
Synopsis: Set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, this collection of inter-connected short stories has one thing in common: the complex character of Olive Kitteridge, a retired math teacher. While the stories do not all have a happy ending, Olive Kitteridge explores human relationships and a breadth of human emotions – at times humorous, at time wanting to make you cry.
About the Author: Elizabeth Strout is also the author of bestseller Abide with Me and the award-winning Amy and Isabelle. Olive Kitteridge won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Raised in Maine, Strout has a law degree from Syracuse University. She is currently on the faculty of the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina and divides her time between New York and Maine.
My Initial Reactions to the Book
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it relatively easy to get through, despite the reality that many of the stories have a somewhat-heavy-hearted story line. For example, some of the more heavy topics include: suicide, eating disorders, being held hostage, arson, loneliness. Death is a prominent theme in over half the stories. Despite this list, I didn’t find the collection of stories overly depressing. It’s more about the human experience, about relationships, and about how we manage to persevere despite all of the difficult circumstances that go on around us.
I found Olive to be a likeable character despite all of her flaws. Though there are people in her community who don’t like her, who fear her, or who call her the c-word, many of the stories show how, deep-down, she is a person who truly cares. Some of her more remarkable feats are the intervention with Nina who is starving to death, the intervention with Kevin right before he almost killed himself, reaching out to Marlene after her husband died. Then there are her funny shenanigins, which in a way I admire – vandalizing her daughter-in-law’s closet so she begins to think she’s not really perfect, standing up to airport security for making her take her shoes off.
I would say my two favorite stories in the collection are ‘A Little Burst,’ because of the humor in Olive standing up to her daughter-in-law after she overhears her speaking ill of her, and ‘Criminal,’ because the main character is so quintessentially normal and plain, yet overwhelmingly disturbing.
What about you? Did you have a favorite story within the collection? Did you find Olive to be a likeable character? Did you find the collection to be depressing or uplifting or a little of both? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next up for discussion will be another Pulitzer Prize Winner, March by Geraldine Brooks. Discussion begins March 21st.