OLIVE KITTERIDGE: A BOOK REVIEW

December 1, 2014 in Book Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a collection of 13 short stories about Olive Kitteridge, either directly or indirectly. Olive is a rich, prickly character. A retired schoolteacher with a husband and a son, she is tough, controlling, critical, and proud, but she is also loyal, kind, and capable of being hurt. We first learn about her through the eyes of her husband Henry in Pharmacy, where we see her rigidity and coldness, but that view of Olive is immediately offset by the following story Incoming Tide, where Olive’s kindness is absorbed by her former student, returning to his hometown to kill himself.

So the novel continues, exploring the happenings in the small town of Crosby, Maine where tragedies and hurts of all shapes and sizes afflict its inhabitants. Each time the prism is turned to a new set of characters, we see a new perspective of Olive, until by the end, whether you like Olive or not, it is impossible not to feel for her, particularly in the heart-wrenching Security, where all her faults in raising her son come back to haunt her during a visit with him and his new family.

I loved Olive Kitteridge. Every story is full of complex characters involved in challenging situations, both big and small. Starving finds Harmon and Daisy, a couple having an affair, embroiled in trying to rescue an anorexic girl. A Different Road follows Olive and Henry through a horrible event in a hospital restroom, and Tulips has Olive visiting the mother of a killer in order to fill the loneliness of her days. Strout’s writing is mesmerizing. She knows exactly how much to reveal and when to reveal it, so that each story is rich with both what is said and what is left up to the reader to discern. It is a slow pageturner, in that I wanted to rush ahead to see what happened, but I also wanted to slow down and savor the quality of Strout’s writing. This is one of those novels that I was sorry to see come to an end.

Luckily for me, it doesn’t have to because Olive Kitteridge is now a miniseries on HBO starring the incomparable Frances McDormand from Fargo. I am looking forward to spending more time with these unforgettable characters, especially Olive herself, who I have grown to love.