Book Review: Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This book is quiet and powerful grouping of short stories that ends up feeling more like a novel. Each story is imbued with a bit of sorrow and includes varying viewpoints with all stories connecting through the title character, Olive Kitteridge- the story may be told through her vantage point or contain a scant mention of her name in one line of text. Author, Elizabeth Strout, has provided us with a myriad of richly nuanced characters and such a familiarity with their town that we end up feeling like we have lived our lives there too. We are presented with Olive Kitteridge, an extremely flawed woman that more often invokes feelings of dislike and perhaps, empathy, rather than stoking our feelings of pure understanding. I don’t mean this as a negative. In fact, I had a hard time putting the book down.

The stories always remind me of the song lyrics by Neko Case, “the most tender place in my heart is for strangers; I know it’s unkind but my own blood is much too dangerous.” We see Olive excel at calling up kindness when the lives of strangers are at stake as in the stories, “Incoming Tide” and “Starving”, mixed in with stories showcasing her complete lack of understanding for her family at best and her brutal ungratefulness to them at worse. But, the author lets us know there is a reason for her regarding her husband’s unconditional love for her and gentleness towards everyone he meets as preposterous. The book also includes a story entitled, “A Different Road”, that chillingly summons up “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor and provides a turning point for the title character.

I encountered this well-written Pulitzer Prized Winning book, “Olive Kitteridge”, by reading it for a women’s book group in Chicago. We all agreed that Olive was a hard woman to love but that her extremely flawed existence was what provides so much interest in this tale. It was also the first book during my tenure in the group that we unanimously agreed upon enjoying.

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