Olive Kitteridge (Review)

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Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout, 2009
266 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August 2009

It's hard to know what to make of Olive Kitteridge, the gruff, big-boned woman who dwells around the edges—and sometimes at the center—of the 13 stories in this gorgeous novel/story collection. Olive is hard to like—but she's impossible not to love.

Olive lives in Crosby, Maine, which author Elizabeth Strout has created as her "little postage stamp of native soil" (the term Faulkner used to describe his fictional home).

We come to know Crosby intimately—the people who live there; the sea tides, the sky and landscape that define it. Olive is the connective tissue that links everyone, and everything, together.

In each story, we meet a set of characters who who face their sorrows and disappointments with stoic secretiveness. They sense acute aloneness even within the intimacy of relationship. And always Olive makes an entrance—perhaps viewed from the back of a concert, or helping out at a wake, or simply remembered as a math teacher who once offered a student an ear for listening. Only in a handful of stories does Olive takes center stage.

But what we come to see is that, hard-shelled as she appears, Olives offers the people of Crosby a lifeline—even when in need of one herself. She's irritating, at times insufferable, but ultimately endaring.

The stories are interconnected, making a sort of novel, whose writing—with its attention to detail and moment—is excruciatingly beautiful. Elizabeth Stout is brilliant at conveying the texture of life—its despair and its transient joy.

But warning: taken all at once ...these stories (except for the last) have an unremitting sadness to them. Yet every one is a polished, dazzling jewel. And never have I cared more about any characters than those in this book.

See our Reading Group Guide for Olive Kitteridge.

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