Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. Pub 2008.
I recall a friend giving me this book years ago – I think she was moving from a nearby home to a faraway one, and was off-loading books and other stuff to me. This was one she was adamant I read. In my own house, it drifted to a back bookshelf, then to a pile on the floor, and almost to a charity shop. There were several false starts over the years, but the strong referral of my book club buddy brought it on to the 2022 reading list. They were, as always, both right – this book was excellent.
Presented as a series of 13 stories, each of which could stand alone, the life of Olive is revealed through these tales of her, her family, and her community. In some, she is a main or near-main character; in others, she’s almost an extra, part of the backdrop of someone else’s life or event. Her story is sad and familiar – how loss, regret, and missed opportunities can come to overwhelm one; how surprising the shift of perspectives that happen with age; and how much we can influence and impact others without even realizing it. Olive is a fixture and feature in more lives than she knows, and is similarly unaware of the impact of her words and deeds on those she holds dear. While each of the stories is excellent, I loved: “Incoming Tide” where she gets in a car at the shore with a former student; “Basket of Trips”, with the strange funeral and sad family revelations; and “River” with the new opportunity for love and life.
The writing is very well-paced, and its slow speed matches the speed of life, especially in a small town. When the big events happen, they catch the reader off-guard (as they do in life) and turn a slow, even story into a page turner, for a little while, anyway. I exclaimed aloud and sat up in my chair when her son announced he was moving, and was near to weeping with her when she saw what became of his house. The hopeful ending – for a possible new beginning – was a perfect conclusion to this collection.
Fate: I’m unlikely to read it again, so it will make its way to a little book library down the street (one that had all its books removed one night by persons unknown…).
8 – a book with a female author
9 – a book that has been made into a film (mini-series)
11 – a referral from a fellow book-clubber
13 – a book set somewhere I’ve never been (Maine/New England)
14 – a book with a name in the title
16 – a book with a colour in the title
18 – short stories (kind of)
19 – a book chosen by a fellow book-clubber
25 – a new author to me
27 – a book that was a gift
29 – a leftover book
34 – a book that has won a prize