Thursday, January 13, 2011

Julie's Review: Olive Kitteridge

Summary: Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection. The opening Pharmacy focuses on terse, dry junior high-school teacher Olive Kitteridge and her gregarious pharmacist husband, Henry, both of whom have survived the loss of a psychologically damaged parent, and both of whom suffer painful attractions to co-workers. Their son, Christopher, takes center stage in A Little Burst, which describes his wedding in humorous, somewhat disturbing detail, and in Security, where Olive, in her 70s, visits Christopher and his family in New York. Strout's fiction showcases her ability to reveal through familiar details—the mother-of-the-groom's wedding dress, a grandmother's disapproving observations of how her grandchildren are raised—the seeds of tragedy. Themes of suicide, depression, bad communication, aging and love, run through these stories, none more vivid or touching than Incoming Tide, where Olive chats with former student Kevin Coulson as they watch waitress Patty Howe by the seashore, all three struggling with their own misgivings about life. Like this story, the collection is easy to read and impossible to forget. Its literary craft and emotional power will surprise readers unfamiliar with Strout. ~amazon.com

Review: I read Ms. Strout's first novel Amy and Isabelle years ago and found it to be emotional charged about mothers and daughter relationship and although I don't normally read short stories, I was looking forward to this one.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a brilliant read about life as it happens and how real life truly happens. In the day of Facebook where everyone's life seems perfect (really who puts their troubles in their status?!), Ms. Strout offers us a look at the darker side of life in a honest manner. This book tells us about the heartache and truths that happen behind closed doors.

I found that Ms. Strout wrote the stories in such a manner that you felt that they all flowed together. Being in the middle of all these stories is Olive Kitteridge. Is she nice? No. Is she well-meaning? Not particularly. Is she honest and forthright? Yes! And this is what I loved about her. Sure, she's not warm and fuzzy but in the end she's always been honest with everyone but herself. By the last story, Olive faces some truths about herself and seems to be ok with them. Might even be able to learn from them.

There are some fantastic stories in this collection. A couple of my favorites were: Incoming Tide and Starving. Both of these dealt with difficult subjects and how over the years some issues never go away. In both of these stories Olive shows how caring and gentle she is. In Incoming Tide, it seemed to me that she knew just what Kevin needed to hear and without making a big deal of it, she talked him back from his dark place. In Starving, she tries to comfort Nina and give her advice. Albeit the advice isn't going to be the cure but she was caring to someone she didn't know.

All of the stories aren't centered around Olive and all have interesting featured protagonists. In a small town all the people are connected so I understood why Olive showed up in 99% of them. The one where she didn't show up, felt disconnected to the other stories. I'm not sure why that one was included.

The writing is impeccable and this is why I think it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Not that the stories of this little town in Maine aren't human and moving, but it's Ms. Strout's writing that enables you to read through these stories seamlessly.

I will continue to look for and read Ms. Strout's novels/short stories. She is truly a gifted storyteller. I also think that Olive Kitteridge would make for a fascinating movie or tv show. There is so much you could do with it.

If you are looking for a book that shines a light on the darker side of life, then this is the book for you. Although in the end, it shows us that just when we think life has worn us down, we can have new life brought into it.

Final Take: 4.75/5

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