Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

3 Oct

Like Let the Great World Spin I originally heard about this book on National Public Radio. I forget the exact interview or reviewer, but the title and idea of the work stuck with me. Olive Kitteridge is a textbook example of a short story cycle- a genre I have become interested since I read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri- which can also be catagorized as somewhat of a short story cycle. A short story cycle is a series of short pieces contained in one volume which relate to each other through common themes and which usually actually share characters.

The common character in Olive Kitteridge tends to be, well, Olive Kitteridge. Described quite universally as a rather large woman, Olive is the hinge upon which this narrative of the small town of Crosby, Maine rests. Sometimes Olive narrates, sometimes she only appears for a few moments as a guest in another person’s story.

The tone of the novel tends to be rather sad. Beautiful, but sad. The prose is very honest, each character is portrayed very intimately and with great care.  I suppose it’s about everyday troubles. The kind of problems every  person in places like Crosby might have. Strout sheds light on these people and this place and by doing so really illuminates the beauty of the ordinary- a theme I quite appreciate, coming from a quite ordinary place myself.

“…And there would be for Henry Kitteridge a flash of incredible frenzy, as though in the act of loving his wife he was joined with all men in loving the world of women, who contained the dark, mossy secret of the earth deep within them. ”

“‘God I love young people,’ Harmon said, ‘They get griped about enough. People like to think the younger generation’s job is to steer the world to hell. But it’s never true is it? They’re hopeful and good- and that’s how it should be.”


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