Friday, November 20, 2009

"Olive Kitteridge"

By Elizabeth Strout
304 pages
Published September 2008 by Random House
Source: purchased

In this Pulitzer-prize winning novel (actually it's a collection of short stories), Strout explores the life of Olive Kitteridge, a retired middle school math teacher who is the kind of person that people avoid in her small town of Crosby. Olive was not a perfect neighbor, not a perfect wife and certainly not a perfect mother. She is abrasive, outspoken, and not in the least able to communicate well with anyone in her life. Her husband, Henry, was the town pharmacist until a big chain moved into town and Henry was beloved by everyone. Her son, Christopher, does everything he can to avoid his mother after he's an adult. But somehow, in some way, Strout is able to convince us that Olive is someone we should call about.

As a mother, Olive admits that she made mistakes but she says that she loved her son and believes that she raised him in a way so that he always knew that. She has had her own issues growing up that make the reader understand why she is the way she is, so you can understand why she might have been a cold mother. But Christopher remembers things differently. As readers, we are not given a full picture of the past so that we never reach a point where we can judge either party.

In some of the stories, Olive is something of a ship passing in the night; the reader almost misses her presence in the story. In others, she is a peripheral player. It was in those stories that I felt like Strout gave us glimpses of Olive that made her a more bearable person, such as the story where she sits in a car with a suicidal young man and just talks to him until he begins to doubt his choice. And when Olive takes her revenge on her brand new daughter-in-law, readers may just think that it was the most brilliant and realistic piece of revenge they've ever read and justifiable.

Throughout the book, Strout deals with issues of love, marriage and infidelity in all of it's guises as she writes about the people in the town of Crosby that cross paths with Olive. There are cases of unfulfilled extramarital love, a case of infidelity discovered in a seemingly happy marriage of decades, and a case of infidelity in a marriage where one person has given up on the physical relationship. Strout never passes judgement; she puts these situations out for the reader to consider.

My book club read this for our November selection and everyone liked this book. There is a lot here to discuss and I do recommend it for book clubs.

16 comments:

  1. I should bring this one up to my bookclub. Your review is convincing and I've heard many other good things.

    Unfortunately my bookclub has to get through Christmas Cookie Club first. ugh. oh well, there will be cookies atleast!

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  2. Great review! Sounds like such an interesting set of stories about Olive. I bought it on a whim and now I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks!

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  3. This book is on my TBR list. I'm really looking forward to it. The stories sound interesting and relevant to life. I like the idea that Olive isn't this amazing woman.
    Thanks for a great review as always!

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  4. I just finished this book last week for my book club and loved it. It is a great book for book clubs. We discussed it at length yesterday. I think it is one the best discussions we have ever had. Everyone got something a little bit different out of the book.

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  5. I really enjoyed this one. Before I read it I thought the format sounded interesting, but it really worked for me.

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  6. I hope to read this one soon. I hadn't heard of Elizabeth Strout until she won the Pulitzer.

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  7. Darn, and I just passed this up when I was shopping on Amazon...I'll have to remember for next time! I sounds pretty interesting.

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  8. I really want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

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  9. I know i say this a lot..but this sure is in my wish-list! Great review!

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  10. I've only read good things about this one. It does sound perfect for a book club.

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  11. I really want to read this book even though I've read mixed reviews of it. I know part of the appeal for me is the name - I just love the name Olive.

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  12. Happy to hear this was a hit with your book group. I liked it as well (audio version).

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  13. I very much enjoyed this collection on many different levels: writing, mood, subject, emotions, etc.

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  14. I need to pick this up soon! It has been on my TBR list for awhile and I just haven't gotten to it yet.

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  15. I'm glad that you mentioned that bit about book clubs. Sometimes I wonder if a book will have enough 'meat' in it to be discussion-worthy.

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  16. I really need to get a copy of this and read it, perhaps it should go on my Christmas list...

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