Book Review for “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout.
Summary: “Olive Kitteridge might be described by some as a battle axe or as brilliantly pushy, by others as the kindest person they had ever met. Olive herself has always been certain that she is 100% correct about everything – although, lately, her certitude has been shaken. This indomitable character appears at the center of these narratives that comprise Olive Kitteridge. In each of them, we watch Olive, a retired schoolteacher, as she struggles to make sense of the changes in her life and the lives of those around her – always with brutal honesty, if sometimes painfully. Olive will make you laugh, nod in recognition, as well as wince in pain or shed a tear or two. We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and her own son, tyrannized by Olive’s overbearing sensitivities. The reader comes away, amazed by this author’s ability to conjure this formidable heroine and her deep humanity that infiltrates every page.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Fiction – Literary; Settings: Contemporary, America, Maine; Other Categories: Interconnected Short Stories, Family Saga, Women.
Yes, I’m late to this party but I can explain. I watched the TV series with the amazingly talented Frances McDormand and loved, Loved, LOVED it. Now, my husband bought the book (before I had this blog) and read it long before the TV series came out. Because he loved it, he’s been trying to get me to read it ever since. Of course, you know what happens… something else comes onto my TBR and I get a new book I’m all excited about and somehow this one gets pushed aside, and before you know it, a dozen years have gone by while it languishes on the shelf. Interestingly enough, since then I’ve read two other books by Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton, and Anything is Possible – and truly enjoyed both of them. So, while I was packing up for our move and found our copy of this, I decided it would be a perfect read – something a bit familiar (because of the TV series) combined with interconnected short stories.
Now, we all know that the book is supposed to (at least almost) always be better than the book, with some rare exceptions. So, the question is, did I adore this book as much as I enjoyed the TV series. To be totally honest, I’ve decided that they’re practically two different things. What I read in the book is, in fact, not what I saw on the TV series. Most obviously to me was that I found that Olive was different, and the focus was different. Except for the names of the characters, the places, and some of the situations, it truly felt like I was reading something totally unconnected to what I had watched. After a slightly bumpy start, that’s how decided to read the book and that’s how I’m going to evaluate this book – by disconnecting it from the series. I can, however, compare it to her other book of interconnected short stories, “Anything is Possible” with a very clear conscience.
Where does this leave us? Well, to begin with, I have to admit that I found this collection a bit disjointed as a whole, but that the majority of the individual stories – taken on their own – were mostly very enjoyable. What I mean by this is that there are two kinds of stories here, and that they didn’t really gel together like I hoped they would. There are the stories that focus on Olive – and in these I include the ones about Henry and Christopher – and then there are the stories that focus on other people from the area, where one of the Kitteridge family members is mentioned, often as an aside. There were a couple of these stories of other people that felt weaker than the others, and I was unsure why they were included in the book. These also distracted me from feeling like I was getting a full portrait of the Kitteridge family, almost as if an artist put a splash of a bright color in the background of an otherwise somber landscape. Something like that – no matter how attractive it may be – draws your attention away from the main picture, and you might forget what the painting was supposed to be about. By the way, this is something I didn’t experience with her Lucy Barton collection of short stories, “Anything is Possible.” In that book even when Lucy wasn’t in the forefront, she was felt in the background, and you understood completely how she was part of the other character’s lives and their separate stories. As a whole, I think that book was more cohesive than this one.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this book; I really like Strout’s writing style, which is very evocative and atmospheric, while at the same time, fully accessible. You can sense how Strout uses language to color these stories to bring out the proper emotions, without ever being told how you should be feeling. I also enjoyed how Strout developed each of the main characters, and appreciated each of them for both their good and bad aspects. There’s no question in my mind that Strout is an extremely talented writer, but I don’t think this book was the best showcase for her abilities. That’s why, although I think I’ll still recommend this collection, I think it deserves only a slightly above average rating of three and a half stars out of five. And yes, I do very much want to read her “Olive Again” book.
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