Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I would give an A+, but I enthusiastically and without any reservation can give Olive Kitteridge that grade.  It is an exceptional, award-winning book that I would recommend for even the most critical reader.

The book is a collection of short stories about the members of a small town in Maine.  Olive Kitteridge is a retired math teacher and a long-time resident of the town.  Often stubborn, abrasive and contrary, Olive is a complicated, interesting character.  She resists changes in her familiar town and finds people around her to be irritating and perplexing.  A few of the stories focus on her, but the majority are about other personalities in the town, including people close to her, like her husband, Henry, and alienated son, Chris.  Others are about people completely unrelated, like Angela O’Meara, the aging piano player in the local cocktail lounge and Julie Harwood, a broken-hearted, jilted bride.  But each story connects to Olive in some way, effectively fastening the life of every member of Crosby, Maine to each other, however tenuously, with Olive serving as the narrative fulcrum.  The stories span a period of many years and as the town and people change, Olive recognizes changes within herself and even learns to be (a little) more understanding and compassionate.

I think the writing in this book is some of the very best I’ve read.  Elizabeth Strout has an absolutely amazing talent for writing descriptive, intuitive prose without it being at all cumbersome.  She is able to capture familiar, human moments within her characters so that the reader is able to recognize them as thoughts or experiences they’ve had themselves.  The result is that each character and experience, though completely new to the reader, are immediately familiar and identifiable.  She puts into words with enviable effortlessness those thoughts and feelings that make us all human.  The Random House Reader’s Circle trade paperback version of the book includes a really charming interview with Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge that simultaneously demonstrates Strout’s gentle modesty for her work as well as her ability to write a character as irascible as Olive Kitteridge.

I honestly cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this book.  It was an absolute pleasure to read and I am definitely looking forward to reading Strout’s previous bestselling novels Amy and Isabelle and Abide With Me.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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