Published October 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is “a compelling life force” (San Francisco Chronicle). The New Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace.
In November 2009, I read Strout’s Pulitzer-prize winning book, Olive Kitteridge. When I reviewed that book, I had this to say about Olive:
“Olive…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 other. She is abrasive, outspoken, and not in the least able to communicate well with anyone in her life.”Later I added:
“…somehow, in some way, Strout is able to convince us that Olive is someone we should care about.”And that is the genius of Strout. She made me care about Olive. She has been the standard to which I hold every other unlikable character. I expect all authors to give me a reason to still care about those characters. For ten years, Olive has stayed with me. I never expected I’d get another chance to read about Olive. In many ways, it didn’t seem necessary. So when I first read that Strout had written a sequel, I had mixed feelings. Could Strout move Olive’s story forward while retaining everything that made Olive Olive?
The quick answer is yes.
Olive is still outspoken and often abrasive. She is still terrible at communicating with those she cares about. But this is the Olive that we saw at the end of the first book, the Olive that is learning to mind what she says, who can be empathetic, and, even, vulnerable.
Like the first book, though, this is not just a book about Olive. Once again, Strout has strung together a group of short stories that tell readers as much about Crosby and its residents as it does about Olive. Some characters from the first book reappear; some characters from others of Strout’s books appear. Here again Strout deals with issues of love, marriage, and the relationships between parents and children. And, here again Strout does not pass judgment on her characters; she puts these relationships and situations out there for the reader to consider, allowing us just enough from both sides to really give us pause to think.
It’s quite possible that I care even more about Olive now than I did ten years ago. Ten years ago I thought I was done with Olive. Now I know that she will always be there in my head. Thank you, Olive, for moving back into Elizabeth Strout’s head and making her tell more of your story.