Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

olive-kitteridge“WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • NOW AN HBO MINISERIES
In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.
At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.” – Goodreads

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of short stories gathered together to form a novel. At first glance, these stories do not seem to have much to do with each other, but if you look closely you will see that the book’s namesake, Olive Kitteridge, appears in each one – whether as a primary character, supporting character, or sometimes merely by being mentioned by another character.

Life in Crosby, Maine appears to be a lonely one for most of the characters in this novel. Most of the narratives touch on relationships in some form – relationships ending, newly forming, those that are empty, collapsing, or gone. The stars of our stories all seem to be struggling through emotional hard times, sometimes wondering if life is worth all of this effort. Yet – despite this sense of drudgery, hope prevails just as frequently, often appearing unexpectedly.

Throughout these various narratives, we observe as Olive journeys through life: her marriage, her relationship with her son, and life’s trials as they come. She is a harsh and intimidating woman, often not caring about the effect she has on those around her. Alternately, Olive at other times displays the capacity for true kindness, caring, and understanding. As we travel through the novel, we see Olive growing as a character, as a woman – watching as she gains self-awareness, as some of her hard edges are softened, as some light begins to break through to the darkness inside her.

Strout’s writing is brilliantly real – touching those parts of inside our souls that sometimes even we didn’t know were there.  In each of the 13 narratives of Olive Kitteridge, I recognized emotions or situations that I have personally felt or experienced. It is truly magic when a writer can bring one to their knees with the depth of the emotion in their writing – and Elizabeth Strout absolutely has that magic.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

 

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