Book Review: Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
This is one of those books that might not grab you in the first fifty pages. You may be tempted to cast it aside and dive into another book on your long reading list, as was the case with more than one reader in my book group. Please don’t do that. It’s VERY much worth reading.
This is a collection of short stories, all set in a small town in Maine. And it truly has a small town feel. There are a variety of characters, each in different places in their lives, and they all have one person in common: Olive Kitteridge. Olive is a retired schoolteacher, a large woman—at times larger than life. She’s domineering, outspoken and unapologetic. Some of the stories focus on her and her husband, Henry and their son, Christopher. And in many she plays just a small role, or her name is merely mentioned. She, however, never fails to have a profound affect on the lives of the characters and the gist of the story. She’s one of those characters that you’ll either love or hate–but I thought she was a brilliantly flawed creation and a unique string pulling me through the pages.
These stories all explore the human condition, which makes the material highly relatable. As the characters reflect upon their lives, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own and felt the author portrayed a deep understanding of what it means to raise children, be raised, age and continue to find meaning in one’s existence.
Lest one think all the material is serious, a story called “Security,” had me laughing out loud at the God-fearing, “praise the Lord” spouting parrot.
Overall, I felt it was an unusual format, but it worked for me and I highly recommend reading Olive Kitteridge. At 270 pages, it’s not a huge time-investment and yet I’ll probably remember it for a lifetime.