Sunday, June 6, 2010

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

Title: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Pages: 270
Genre: Fiction
What you'll love: Characters that come alive within pages of their introduction.
What will bug you: Olive.

Olive Kitteridge is a retired math teacher living with her husband, Henry, in Crosby, Maine. This novel is about Olive, but also about the people around her, all of whom are dealing with their own problems. Throughout the story, Olive comes to have a deeper understanding of herself, and that our lives are combinations of joy, sorrow, conflict, regret and love.

This novel is a cross between a complete story, and a collection of short stories. I'm not sure what to classify it as. The book goes in chronological order, each chapter either directly, or loosely involving Olive Kitteridge - sometimes she is just mentioned in passing. Things tie together
at the end, but to the reader it feels like short stories. I liked it. It's something I've never experienced before.

As different as each individual is, there are certain human experiences that we all have in common. I mentioned them above - joy, sorrow, conflict, regret and love. (Of course there are more... these are just the
major themes of the book, so I figure it's a good place to start!) When we are experiencing joy, it is a very inclusive feeling. People want to share it with you. It's the sorrow, regret and conflict that can feel so isolating. It's tough to remember that no matter what you're coping with, no matter how difficult, there is someone - perhaps even in your hometown - who is dealing with similar feelings. We are never alone. Even when it seems like we are.

I think I lov
e Olive. Even though she bugs me. She's what my Grampy would have called a "tough old bird". Olive had a lot of walls - but being a reader I had the luxury of glimpsing into her inner thoughts and decided that her heart was always in the right place.

One of the most frustrating scenes for me was when Olive was visiting her son in NY. They go out for ice cream, and when they get home Olive notices that there is caramel in a big line across her shirt. She gets all pissed off because no one pointed it out to her - they just let her walk around like that! She
feels like they see her as some child they are taking care of, and she decides to go home - abruptly. I wanted to shake her. "Olive! What's the matter with you?! Do you really want to fight over this?"

Her gruffness bothered me, but at the same time I found her a comfort. I get the feeling that you could tell her anything - anything - and she would lis
ten and accept. My husband is like this. She would have an opinion on what you're telling her - for sure - but she would just accept that this is what you think, or how you feel. She wouldn't try to change you, and I like that.

So... I love her, but she bothers me.

I was impressed with Elizabeth Strout. I find short stories to be either hit or miss. There are certain authors - Elizabeth Berg is another - who can make me feel intimate with a character I just met. It's a great skill - and Elizabeth Strout has i
t. There is emotion behind her words. Her characters are real - they are all dealing with emotions we have all felt. Great writing!

I'll give it 4 wine glasses... I'm trying to be a little more stingy about what I give a 5 wine glass rating to. This was a great book, and I hope you pick it up. If you're planning on making the purchase, and you love Amazon as much as I do - click here to do it through my astore!



  1. Your new wine glasses are very appealing. I suppose you have switched to white wine now that the weather is warming? I hope you switch back to red for winter. ;)

  2. I think it takes a lot to write a character like that, who you end up liking even though she's not traditionally likeable. I've been curious about this book for some time... must get to it one of these days.

  3. @ Kathy - I love my white wine. I'll look and see if I can find a nicer looking glass for the red. The one I was using before was something I made using microsoft paint. :)

    @ Nymeth - I completely agree. It took some before I decided what I thought of Olive.

  4. Kate, you have zeroed in on what makes this a phenomenal book. Olive is so real, and when I read this book I found her both infuriating and endearing, like a difficult relative.

  5. I have this book on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Great review.

    I'm a new follower...and I hope you'll stop by my blog.

  6. tough old birds are the best! i really like your new design!

  7. Hi Kate:

    I have an award for you!