Will Byrnes's Reviews > Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
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Nov 05, 14

Read in June, 2009

Olive Kitteridge is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of stories that constitute a novel. They are not as closely woven together as the multi-generational tales in works by Louise Erdrich, another writer who likes to collect small parts into a larger whole, but Strout has put together a compelling portrait of a small town. I was reminded of Spoon River, as we learn some of the secrets each of the main characters protects. Lake Wobegon came to mind, as well. It most resembles Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson’s joined tales of alienation in small-town America. Olive Kitteridge is the organizational core connecting the thirteen stories. She appears in each one, sometimes as a primary character, sometimes as a secondary and in others by one of the characters referring to her.

Elizabeth Strout - from her fans FB site

Loneliness was the predominant theme in the town of Crosby, Maine, loneliness or the fear of it. Most of the stories touch on relationships sagging, empty or gone, getting through emotional hard times and wondering if it is all worth the effort. There is a chilly New England sensibility here, characters that are unable to move past their stiff upper lips. Communication is guarded, often absent, but always made manifest in actions, if not words. Some succumb to their worst impulses, others find their way through to some sort of reconciliation with life’s travails. Yet hope pops up just as frequently, like crocuses in March.

Frances McDormand as Olive – from a NY Times article on the actress

Olive journeys through her trials, her marriage, her relationship with her son, her potential marital digression. She seems clueless as to her effect on others, and can be glaringly harsh, while displaying the capacity for kindness and understanding.

The writing is brilliant, taut, dense, a torte, and thus, a joy. A short-story writer’s talent for telling large amounts in small spaces, repeated 13 times.

Personally, I felt the tales had maybe a bit too much resonance. I recognized emotions, if not always specific situations, (and yeah, some specific situations too) that I have experienced, and saw through the eyes of a third party experiences that were likely to have been a part of the history of people in my life. Is it a good thing that a writer can make you squirm through such recognition?

Olive grows as a character, gaining some self-awareness, softening some hard edges, finding some light in a dark place.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

The facebook link is to a fan site, not to Strout herself

Here is the Official Site for the HBO production

A nice profile of Strout on Wiki

11/3/14 - I saw the 1st episode of the HBO series - dazzling! Must see!
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Comments (showing 1-19)

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Claire S Excellent review again, Will, thanks! A friend of mine mentioned that she just adored this, back in April. Sounds really wonderful!

message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Kate wrote: "Delicious book.

"telling large amounts in small spaces, repeated 13 times."

That's very suited, nicely put."

Thank you for your kind words. The book was wonderful, even if it sometimes poked sensitive parts.

message 17: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Katie wrote: "Excellent review again, Will, thanks! A friend of mine mentioned that she just adored this, back in April. Sounds really wonderful!"

Thanks for your kindness. It really is a wonderful book, the more so for me, maybe, than for some younger readers, as I am not so far removed from Olive's generation, and can appreciate the more ancient world in which she has lived, chronologically, if not geographically.

BTW, I am working on a write up for another 5-star (I am pretty stingy with my 5-star ratings) book, (non-fiction) one you will absolutely have to read, if you have not yet done so.

Claire S Sounds great.. it's funny you mention ancient. I was at a friend's 50th birthday party at an Outback Steakhouse last night, and the one person who gave him a present gave him a copy of 'National Geographic' about Ancient Civilizations, for reminiscing, etc.. brutal.
Anyway, I'm not that far behind, (my other friend who spoke highly of this is mid-50's or so), and so will have that appreciation of those times as well, I expect.
And thanks for the recommendation! More comments on that over there..

Claire S I've started reading this finally, truly is great! She's so, um, direct! I'm contrasting/comparing here with the horrible white women in 'The Help', and grumpiness etc.. vs blatant racist hostility. Fascinating.

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Yes, it is. I have read a few more interesting works of late. The Ballad of Trenchmouth Tagggart is a sort-of Little Big Man, but looking at West Virginia instead of Native American issues. I am struggling with my writeup, but it is definitely a worthwhile read. The other is Housekeeping, written in 1980 by Marilyn Robinson. Very interesting stuff, having to do with identity, transcendentalism, place, and very much about loss. It will make you sad, but in a good way.

Claire S Sounds great! Looking forward to your writings about them!

message 12: by Dave (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dave Thanks Will. I am almost done with Olive Kitteridge. I came to look at reviews to see if anybody else connected this work to Winesburg, Ohio. I think the comparison is impossible to miss. Your review validated my connection, which I was beginning to think was daft as I read through review after review. P.S. - I'm loving O.K. - much more than Winesburg, Ohio.

message 11: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Yup, I think squirming is good sometimes.

An excellent review Will.

message 10: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm I recommended this to some of the ladies in my book club after we hit a discordant note over The Burgess Boys -the men in the room were less than enthusiastic about it. I realized that I remembered almost nothing about it but your terrific review- do you write any other kind?- brought it home for me.

message 9: by Melanie (new) - added it

Melanie Sounds fantastic! Will have to get my hands on this one.

message 8: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Crytzer Fry This book has been sitting on my shelf for years! Perhaps it's time to dust it off and move it up in the ranks of my abandoned book babies?

message 7: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm I'm very excited about this TV adaptation. Re-reading your review was a tantalizing appetizer. I thought the TV review in today's Times was perfect.

message 6: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Another of the must-reads on my shelf. I need a second me.

Dolors Truly glad to own this collection of stories having been stirred before by Strout's sharp-edged writing in Amy and Isabelle. Excellent review Will.

message 4: by Cathy (last edited Nov 02, 2014 12:06PM) (new) - added it

Cathy DuPont Thanks, Will, for a great review. I had read that article on Frances McDormand but didn't connect the two until now.

This is another of my thousands(?) of TBR. When will I finish? Maybe when you stop writing such enticing reviews.

Nancy Nice review, Will. I'm looking forward to the TV mini-series.

HBalikov Thanks, Will, for your kind links and extra "stuff"

message 1: by David (new)

David Sarkies Great reviewed. I generally don't read many contemporary novels, but I am intrigued with the idea of using a collection of short stories to create a novel.

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