Published September 2008 by Random House Trade
I have a weakness for the novel-in-stories. I have a weakness for unreliable narrators. I have a weakness for peering in windows and glimpsing messy lives.
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, gave me all three. Which is great because I also have a weakness for books that linger long after I’ve read the last pixel.
Olive Kitteridge is the larger-than-life character who serves as the glue for the stories the comprise this novel, starring in some, tangential in others. She is brash, unpleasant, lonely, out-of-step, interfering, and terrified. The inhabitants of her small Maine town grapple with change, with loss, with fear alongside Olive. The small triumphs of life are, as tends to happen, overshadowed by the discovery that a mother-of-the-groom dress is an object of ridicule.
How do you hold your head up high when the world is laughing at you?
Strout’s style is simple and forthright — traits any good writer knows to be harder than they look. The characters come alive via details, actions, but Strout is somewhat stingy about what she shares. There are necessary gaps in the lives of the characters, all for the reader to fill. Secrets connect the inhabitants of the town, but few are shared between the characters, injecting a layer of loneliness between human interactions.
The structure of Olive Kitteridge — each story stands alone and life’s natural chronology is abandoned — might discourage some readers. The trick to this book, like any novel-in-stories, is to let Olive, her family, and neighbors unfold at their pace, in their own time.
The reward is the moments where you, the reader, understand how one woman can loom large over a small town…without ever realizing she’s done so.
About Kassia Krozser
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