Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

olive kitt pic
Olive Kitteridge

by
Elizabeth Strout

Rating:
5 book marks

Olive Kitteridge is Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of Crosby, Maine, a seemingly simple town on the New England coast.  The people in Crosby trade news and gossip, but the real stories lie buried deep in the complicated and often painful family relationships that only surface behind their closed doors.

The stories span twenty-five years and focus on the town’s most complicated character, Olive Kitteridge, whose harsh and critical personality is both widely disliked and misunderstood.  Not surprisingly, Olive’s husband, Henry, the town’s pharmacist, and their son, Christopher bear the brunt of her brutal temperament.

Olive speaks her mind.  She apologizes to no one and alienates many.  But something happens over time:  the reader discovers that, while Olive has no patience for simps and ninnies, she cares very much about the emotionally vulnerable, and intervenes at crucial times, using a keen instinct.  If only she could treat Henry and Christopher this way.  Olive’s everyday interactions with her family are so unpleasant they cause deep and lasting damage.  As years pass and lives change, however, Strout offers a better look at Olive’s marriage.  The author shows glimpses of hope, renewed connections and a true understanding of a very complicated woman.

Olive Kitteridge is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Strout takes a simple Maine town and adds layers and layers of themes, including depression, love, family, marriage, infidelity, growing old and forgiveness.  Her characters show that goodness exists right next to all the flaws and faults of human interaction.  One of my favorite things about Olive is how she works out her frustrations in the garden.  The hearty yet fragile beauty of flowers is everywhere in these stories, an excellent metaphor.  In addition to flowers, Strout includes the subtle yet prominent influence of nature and the sea in her characters’ lives. Sub-themes of religion and politics add further understanding of her characters.

While all of the thirteen stories are terrific, my favorites are “Pharmacy” in which Strout shows Henry’s lovable and caring personality, “Incoming Tide”, a story of critical human connection and “River”, a hopeful look to the future.

Olive Kitteridge is the type of book you can read more than once.  This was my second read and I enjoyed as much as the first, picking up on wonderful details about the characters and town.

This book has made it to my All-Time Top Ten List!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

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15 thoughts on “Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

  1. I love love loved this book. I was already an Elizabeth Strout fan when Olive Kittredge came out, but I was blown away by this book. I made my book club read it, though and they hated it. I think Olive is one of my favorite characters ever.

    1. Olive is such an interesting character. I read the Burgess Boys, but nothing else by Strout. Can you recommend something? Thanks for reading and commenting, Elizabeth!

  2. This is a terrific review; written with such clarity and feeling I now have to rush over and buy this. Short story collections are tricky to sell and have to work so much harder to succeed. Strout’s book, cleverly written, interlacing stories from one person’s life is a great technique and I can’t wait to read the stories themselves and pick out my own favourites.

    1. I read the book a few years ago and I just watched the miniseries, which I thought was excellent. I couldn’t remember everything from the book so I re-read it. The miniseries is pretty true to the events and dialogue. I thought both were great. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jan!

  3. Wow, this book will have to go on my to-read list. I love how your enjoyment of this book shines out in this review.

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