Thursday, November 22, 2012

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

I'm not sure what originally attracted me to this book.  It could be that I wanted to read a Pulitzer Prize winning book.  I'm not sure I've ever read one before.  But the synopsis on the back was interesting and so I added it to my collection of unread books waiting to be read and, as usual, promptly forgot about it for a while.

I pulled it out while trying to slog my way through a book that I ended up not finishing.  I needed something to keep me going and this was handy.  In the end, I'm glad I stumbled back across it as I enjoyed it very much.

Olive Kitteridge, of the title, is occasionally the center of the book, but the book is not just about her story or any others.  Instead, Olive Kitteridge is a book of barely connected short stories.  The connection is the town where the people all live, Crosby, Maine.  Some of the stories involve Olive or her immediate family but many of them she has simply a walk-on role with no lines.  For example, she may simply be another customer in the restaurant where the story is taking place that chapter.

Each chapter introduces new characters. Like an onion, Ms. Strout begins to peel away the outer layers to reveal the raw flesh beneath.  In a just a few pages we learn secrets, insecurities, dreams or fears of our new friends and quickly begin to care about them whether with compassion or disdain.  By the end of each chapter I felt I might know what the future held, but usually had to complete the picture myself.  Isn't this like the real world?  Each meeting with a friend ends with a parting and uncertainty of what may come next.  Although each chapter may have left me with a question, like the rise of a voice at the end of the sentence, I didn't feel dissatisfied with the story.

Olive, her husband, Henry, and her son, Christopher are the only characters to reappear in more than one story.  We get unique perspectives from each of them of their family dynamic and how it unfolds over the years.  Olive Kitteridge herself was not outwardly a very sympathetic character, and yet I came to be quite fond of her.

I give Olive Kitteridge 4 shots of 5. 

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