Monday, November 7, 2011

The Olive in all of us

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  is a novel in short stories.  The anchoring character is Olive Kitteridge, a school teacher in a small town on the coast of Maine. The stories take place over a lifetime of years.  Each story features Olive, her family or a resident of the town.  The author magically weaves these stories together so that by the end of the book the reader truly knows Olive.

Now the frightening part, Olive is us.  Olive is occasionally funny, often cruel, at times sensitive and sometimes extremely vulnerable. Her husband, Henry, who can only be described as long suffering, loves Olive despite her flaws. Her only child, Christopher, is smothered by Olive’s possessiveness, dependence and also her love.  I found that when I disliked Olive the most, I saw a part of me.
  Now, I would not steal from my new daughter-in-law at the wedding reception, but somehow I can empathize with her feelings of loss when her son marries.  Our relationships change, mature and dissolve just like Olive’s.  We are giving but also possessive, callous and yet vulnerable, thoughtful then cruel.

The book is beautifully crafted.  The author manages to blend these separate stories into one cohesive story of love, loss and life.  Elizabeth Stout received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Olive Kitteridge.  I would highly recommend it for solo reading and for book clubs.

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