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. -- Random House
When I selected OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout as our book club pick for September, I was hoping that it would be a book that we'd all enjoy. I wanted our group to read some "literature" this month, and OLIVE KITTERIDGE did win the Pulitzer Prize for 2009. Ideal pick, right? I thought so; although in the back of my mind, I was a little worried that the book might not appeal to everyone. Often times when a book is so critically acclaimed, it doesn't resonate with the average reader. I definitely don't think that is the case with this book -- I can't imagine not loving (or at least appreciating) it.
I absolutely adored this book! It lived up to all of the hype (and there was sure a lot of hype.) OLIVE KITTERIDGE could quite possibly be the best book I've read so far this year. I can not rave enough about this book, and I will be recommending it to everyone I know. So if you haven't read it yet -- go get it now! I can actually say that I am still in awe of this book a few days after I've finished it. What Elizabeth Strout managed to accomplish in OLIVE KITTERIDGE is pure genius. I'm honestly more than a little intimidated to even be writing about it.
As many of you know, I am not really a big fan of short stories. It's not that I don't like some of the compilations that I've read, it's just that I'm a little scared of them. So in the back of my mind, I was a little worried that I wouldn't like (or even get) OLIVE KITTERIDGE. That was so not the case -- I loved each and every word in this book! OLIVE KITTERIDGE is made up of 13 short stories that are all beautifully linked together. The one major recurring character is, of course, Olive Kitteridge. What I found so unlikely about this book is that I loved each and every short story. I can't even pick out my favorites -- they were all so good for different reasons.
Olive is one of the most well developed and real characters that I've ever come across in a book. In fact, I can't get her out of my mind. She was so complex and very unlikable at times -- she actually reminded me of a female Archie Bunker. However, I loved Olive! She could be negative and nasty; and yet, she had so many conflicting feelings about her life and the people in it. On one hand, she was at pretty obnoxious and caustic; and on the other hand, she was tender with her students and most definitely loved her family. I could talk about Olive and her actions for hours! Her personality is so much fun to analyze!
There were many other wonderful characters in this book too besides Olive. In fact, almost all of the characters were interesting and extremely well-developed. So many of the people in these stories were tragic and yet so honest. Many of the stories in this novel showed how difficult people's lives were and how they struggled with just trying to survive. In some ways, this book just broke my heart; and in other ways, it really affirmed the wonder of life!
I have read some other books by Elizabeth Strout so I definitely appreciated her writing. But I have to say that I'm just blown away by how Ms. Strout wove the characters and themes throughout all of the stories. This novel is just so incredibly thought-provoking and multi-dimensional. Some of the major themes in this book include love, marriage, death/loss, suicide, and depression. I could go on and on... In addition to the major themes, I also loved how there were relatively minor ideas that were woven into the stories such as the beauty of flowers and the comfort of donuts. If you'd like to learn a little more about the novel, there is a very interesting interview with Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge in the back of the book.
Not to pat myself on the back, but I think OLIVE KITTERIDGE is the perfect discussion book! There is a reader's guide which has 20 questions and is guaranteed to make you think. In fact, I can't get this book out of my mind; and after I read the discussion questions, I starting thinking about an entirely new set of topics. I truly believe that each short story is worthy of an evening's discussion because the characters and their actions are so interesting. I rarely say this, but OLIVE KITTERIDGE is a book that I want to read again and again. I think it's one of those novels that will mean different things to you at different times in your life.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.