Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I cannot believe that I have been working here at the SMSA for two years and have only just managed to get a copy of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout onto the shelves! And shame on you members for not requesting it before now!! It only won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2009 and was made into a fairly brilliant TV series starring Frances McDormand in 2014. Terrible form.
When I first picked this book up, I was a little dismayed to find it was set as a series of short stories (not my favourite form). However, it is so clever and so well written that I embraced it wholeheartedly. Only after reading it did I read a review saying, rightly, that it is a “novel in stories”. Olive appears in all the stories, either as the main character, or just a person who is passing in the street. The amazing thing about the book is that although the stories are all different, they all come together to form one wonderful story about this woman.
Olive is a bit of a tough nut—she is harsh to almost everyone she meets. Other women in the book say of her, “Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology”. She uses outlandish language to describe others, such as ‘hellion’ or ‘moron’. She lives in Maine with her husband (the Pharmacist) and her son whom she criticises constantly. She teaches at the high school where her son attends.
The stories vary from a hostage scene in a hospital to a funeral reception of a man whose wife has just learned of his infidelity. Most of the stories are sad and fragile, with romance and jealousy and family intertwined. As I read through the book I found that I liked Olive more and more. Even though she was hard as nails on the outside, she really wasn’t – she loved her son more than anything, she cared about an old student who was going through rough times, she is worldly beyond the confines of this small provincial town.
I truly love this book. I enjoyed watching Frances McDormand do her stuff in the TV series. It is the story of a complicated woman who deals with life and all that it throws at her in her own way, you grow to respect and admire this woman for all her hard exterior and to see her (and the other characters in the book) as far more complicated than they at first appear.
Please note also that her recent book, My Name is Lucy Barton, is actually on the shelves already and is also a highly recommended read.