M's Reviews > Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
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's review
Apr 23, 2008

liked it

Strout is such a good writer that when I heard she had a new one out I went to buy it without even knowing the title, let alone the plot. And while she is still a wonderful writer, she seems to have reduced herself (prematurely, I would hope) to the pre retirment plan of Maeve Binchy; the incredibly unpleasant world of the multiple narrative novel.
Her characters are sketched very well and her use of language pulls you in, but I really hate these snippets that aren't short stories, aren't novels - so what are they? Characters I meet briefly but in the context of a longer work so that the impact is all the more contrived, and one or two recurring people who become so tiresome and (Olive in particular) really unlikeable that you feel cheated for having this be the protagonist. It's very hard to feel attached to a book like this, and I would've minded less if it had been a book of short stories.
I gave it three stars because it is still very readable and maybe if you know going in what the deal is it is less bothersome. The other drawback though is that it's really depressing - there is a thread of suicide running throughout as well as an emphasis on loneliness, and Oliva can really really be hateful, and Strout's attempts to make her sympathtic come way too late in the work.

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02/21 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I remember reading Ayelet Waldman's blog once, where she said that one of her pet peeves is when authors write a collection of linked short stories and call it a novel. She feels it's a major cop-out, and as an author who works hard to establish narrative flow throughout her book, she personally resents it. As a reader, I'm having trouble naming a book I really liked that was structured that way.

Sheila The thing with this novel structure.... I mean, we get it. We all GET it.

Life is hard, for everyone. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a history. A different perspective on (the same or related) events.

But I would just get into one storyline and start caring, when I was pulled out, never to see these characters again.

Lars I must say--I respectfully (and completely) disagree with all of you. Which is to say that my experience with this book was a very good one.

Contrary to the assessment that this collection was composed entirely of "snippets that aren't short stories, aren't novels", I personally thought each and every story in this collection (with few, if any, exceptions) was satisfying and reached a poignant and compelling denouement. It is only a tribute to Strout's abilities as a writer that she was able to create a collection in which many of the individual parts contribute powerfully to the collection as a whole.

As to Khaya's comment regarding "authors [writing:] a collection of linked short stories and [calling:] it a novel"...I don't think it's so much a cop-out to call this book a novel as it is a marketing ploy to get people who typically would not pick up a collection (including, perhaps, members of Strout's reader base) to buy the book anyway. While it is a misnomer--and, to a certain audience, an understandably frustrating one--I'm not certain it should be in any way held against the book or its author.

I would be curious to know if any of you have read "Shakespeare's Kitchen" by Lore Segal. It was a pulitzer finalist a year or so ago, and it is a collection of linked short stories. In the introduction, she writes:

"The stories in this book take place in a particular situation; they may have a chronology. There is a protagonist, some main characters and a chorus of minor ones, whom you don't always need to tell apart. There is a theme....I once allowed myself to be persuaded to turn my novel "Her First American" into a film script. The would-be producer plied me with scriptwriting lessons. They were very interesting. They said that in a good plot nothing happens that is not the result of what happened before or the cause of what happens next. I like reading stories like that, but I don't write them because that's not how life happens to me or to the people I know...."

Janice Thank you for your review. I'm just finishing the rereading of this book for a book group and you articulated my thoughts very well. This is not a collection of short stories as much as it is a way of looking at characters, and certainly the town is a major character in this book, from different angles in order to arrive at a comprehensive look at all of them. Rereading has helped my appreciation of this.

Elizabeth These are short stories. Many of them published as long as 20 years ago in a variety of publications. A novel is a long narrative. Doesn't have to be linear. So you could call it a novel too.So the structure I think is irrelevant. It either spoke to you or not.

message 6: by M (new) - rated it 3 stars

M Well I guess that's what makes it relevant then; whether or not you actually go for that structure and find it satisfactory.

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