Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This book is a quiet and powerful collection of short stories that reads more like novel chapters.  Each story is imbued with a bit of sorrow and includes varying viewpoints with all stories connecting through the title character, junior high teacher Olive Kitteridge. One story may be told entirely through her vantage point, while in another there may only be a brief mention of her name in one line of text.
Strout has provided us with a myriad of richly nuanced characters and creates in the reader a familiarity with their small town ( Crosby, Maine), so it feels as though we have lived our lives there, too.  The stories give a glimpse into the life of Olive Kitteridge, an extremely flawed woman that more often invokes feelings of dislike and perhaps, empathy, rather than stoking our feelings of pure understanding.  And yet, the book is enjoyable.

The stories always remind me of a line of Neko Case lyrics: “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 kindness when the lives of strangers are at stake, particularly in “Incoming Tide” and “Starving.” Yet, also present is 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 actions.  The book also includes a story entitled, “A Different Road”, that chillingly recalls “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 Prize winning book 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 kept our interest in this collection of tales.

Find a copy of this book in our library catalog.

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