Kelly 's Reviews > Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
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's review
Jun 05, 2012

liked it

** spoiler alert ** I've been reading a lot of multiple-POV, novels-told-in-short-stories lately (A Visit from The Goon Squad, and When The Emperor Was Divine). Olive Kitteridge is the same thing, and here's my takeaway on using that as a structural device--I think it has to be really intentional to be successful. The overbearing, amazing and very very human Olive Kitteridge pops up in every story throughout her eponymous book, and sometimes it's literally just one of the other characters glancing at her at a concert and noting that she's there. This entire book had that feel--you'd be reading in one perspective and a character you knew from another story would show up briefly, or be acknowledged--and while in the moment it was a fun little connection, and there's something to be said about the cumulative effect of watching the ways people are tied together, I don't think it had a lasting impact and I don't necessarily think it deepened the connections between the characters aside from maybe giving their place in the town. The way that a reveal is successful if it holds up in a second reading, the characters intertwining would've succeeded if their random meetings and noticings of each other added more insight and emotion or depth or character to the stories a second time through. Otsuka's book, on the other hand, was tightly bound within one family, and the different perspectives were rich and revealing and often challenged what you thought you knew.

I think because of the structure, I also didn't quite feel the weight of every character in the book; Chris, Olive's son, felt like a pale sketch to me, and yet he was so central. And all the other characters who kept popping up--I think I would've felt differently if these were individual short stories, but in a longer book it was hard to go only so far into each one and then no further (with the exception of Olive), and it made me feel like the book lacked an overall structure or arc or map.

Also, I was surprised at how much space was devoted to characters looking at things and then having epiphanies, or rifling through old pictures--it very, very occasionally worked for me, but most times it felt devicey. On the whole, I think, I felt like the seams were showing through too strongly--I was often aware of the author, often aware of the writing, often aware of what was happening behind the curtains.

The story about Kevin and Olive in the car was amazing, though. Tense, terse, and beautifully done, and such an offhanded reveal about the rifle--stunningly crafted. I read that part four times.


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