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Olive Kitteridge

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty.

270 pages, Hardcover

First published March 25, 2008

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About the author

Elizabeth Strout is the author of several novels, including: Abide with Me, a national bestseller and BookSense pick, and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. In 2009 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book Olive Kitteridge. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker. She teaches at the Master of Fine Arts program at Queens University of Charlotte.

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5 stars
66,829 (29%)
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3 stars
53,375 (23%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 23,827 reviews
Profile Image for Scott Axsom.
47 reviews150 followers
November 19, 2021
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and I’ve struggled since to find the reasons why Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge struck me so deeply. So let me start by just saying; this book was awesome. Appreciating the reasons why, however, required from me considerable introspection. The subtlety of its beauty is indeed the mark of a great novel.

I came to this book reluctantly and I’m not sure why - anything with a Pulitzer usually draws me like a bear to honey - but perhaps it was due to the structure. I’m not a fan, by nature, of the novel-in-stories format. Sure, I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad but that was the exception proving the rule for me. To make matters worse here, the first chapter in Olive Kitteridge introduces us to the title character and she’s just not a very nice person, at least where her treatment of her husband is concerned.

Strout’s use of the novel-in-stories form, however, is pitch-perfect for the fundamental story she tells. She introduces us to a title character who appears to be considerably less than worthy as the subject of an entire novel. Then, through the use of deeply honest and insightful chapters about nearly unrelated characters, she paints a picture of Olive Kitteridge that is infinitely richer than I'd originally assumed. And here is the beauty of Strout’s use of this form; she lead me to discover that the assumptions I’d made about a complex human being (as each inherently is) were necessarily as narrow as the context of their formulation.

Strout's character development is a subject worthy of a college course. Throughout Olive Kitteridge she introduces us to characters whose situations resonate and whose responses to those situations are as believable as they are often maddening. And through it all, Olive Kitteridge’s impact on those characters and their lives comes peeking through again and again until I begin to realize, 'Wow, this woman, for whom I didn’t care so much, has had a profoundly positive impact on her world'.

And this, I think, brings us to the real genius behind Elizabeth Strout’s work here. She has taken the novel-in-stories and used it to introduce us to the many diverse and far-flung characters upon whose disparate lives her title character has imparted some bit of change, some bit of love, or wisdom, or influence, and in doing so Strout has shown that we are infinitely complex creatures who, no matter how long or short our duration on this plane, will leave change in our wake.

The character Olive Kitteridge was recognizable as much for her inherent nobility as for her glaring flaws and she reminded me of this: Though people are complicated, often less than noble, always imperfect creatures, each of us has profound significance in this world. And for that wonderful bit of enlightenment, I’ll never forget her. As did Winter Wheat , this book altered my view of humanity and, for that, I feel both oddly indebted (she is make-believe, after all) to Olive Kitteridge and deeply grateful for the work of Elizabeth Strout.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,987 followers
August 20, 2020
Well, this one did not go like I hoped it would . . . might be the first time I wish I could give zero stars. Remember, I do respect if you loved this book, but I must be honest about how it made me feel. And, this book made me not feel good at all . . .

While this came highly recommended from several Goodreads friends, I should have known it may not work out when I saw the Pulitzer Prize sticker. It seems like in general, the books that win the big prizes do not end up being enjoyable for me.

Also, I listened to this book with my wife. The last time we listened to a book together we both agreed that listening together can make any book better. Enter Olive Kitteridge to prove us wrong! I guess that was pretty much her character anyway, so it makes sense if she can be crummy in a fictional world, she can get under our skin in real life (hence the pic of the alien dude above).

Here are some of the various things my wife and I said to each other while listening:

• “What was the point of that?”
• “Wait, what is happening now?”
• “I really don’t care about this part”
• “How much time is left?”
• “Maybe we should just stop”
• “I guess we should keep listening so we can get it over with”
• “This is so painfully morose and these characters are unbelievably pathetic”
• “These characters are really not that interesting”
• “This book is like one of those stories about gossip and deceit and back-stabbing, except it is all really boring gossip, deceit, and back-stabbing.”
• “Maybe this will turn into a monster book and some beast will just show up and kill everyone in the end. That is about the only way this book will be redeemed.”

I think there may have only been one or two moments where we looked at each other and said, “Oh, that part was somewhat better.”

I was hoping that it would all come together in the end and I would get the point and feel better about the book. But, I didn’t get the point, didn’t care about the characters, was totally bored, truly felt like I wasted several hours of my life. At least I got to spend them with my wife!

I know that many love this book. Maybe you will love this book, too – if you try it, I hope you do! If you feel like I am being too harsh, I wish I could apologize and say I felt bad about not being able to give it any love, but really, I don’t and I have to be honest! For me, the book was not good, and I really cannot see what the people who vote for these prize-winning books are looking for.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews786 followers
January 9, 2016
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

This is a collection of stories about a group of ordinary people living in a small town in Maine, their joys, sorrows, tragedies and grief, all centered around the main character, Olive Kitteridge. Normally, this is the kind of fiction I stay away from. I was afraid it would be an overwrought melodrama about provincial people living in a boring town. Yet, I was so absorbed by the lives of these people and had a difficult time putting the book down.

The characters were very well developed, the town vividly described, and the emotions raw. Olive Kitteridge left me feeling very unsettled. I admire her quiet strength, her forthrightness, her realistic views of life, and the fact that she controls her emotions. I hate her brusqueness, her self-centeredness, and her difficulty with accepting changes. She was a complex character, definitely not your stereotypical cranky old lady. Each story is presented from different viewpoints and shows Olive’s many sides as she interacts with family, neighbors and friends, as she experiences age, loneliness, grief and love. The characters are realistically drawn with such an emotional depth that I found I could easily identify with them and even see similarities to people I know. Olive Kitteridge makes me hate those qualities in myself that are like hers and makes me look at others with more patience and a less judgmental eye.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,100 reviews7,192 followers
August 7, 2023
As I write my review, I see that there are more than 23,000 reviews already, so what can I add? Just this: Olive joins the ranks of what many would call ‘depressing’ short stories set in small towns, a long-running theme in American literature, so much so that it is almost a genre in itself. Olive follows upon Winesburg Ohio by Sinclair Lewis, Main Travelled Roads by Hamlin Garlin, Village by Robert McAlmon and many others.


These stories are set in coastal Maine, so we could subtitle the book Winesburg, Maine. What is the value of such stories? I think they show us 'So, you think you’ve got it tough?' How about suicide? Or having a son imprisoned for stabbing a woman 29 times? Or finding out on the day of his funeral that your husband had been unfaithful? Or having an only child who moves away and ignores you?

As I was reading I kept thinking, ok, the theme is life goes on no matter what; you just keep on living. Concurrently I happened to be reading a great novel, Portraits of a Marriage, by the Hungarian Sandor Marai, which I also reviewed. As her marriage is disintegrating, one of the characters in that book, rails, in effect, “What am I, a tree? I can’t just go on LIVING; what I am supposed to live FOR?” Maybe Olive finds someone in the last chapter, but this “FOR” is the big unanswered question in the book.

Still a great book of interconnected stories, with Olive making the connections, and great writing, well worth a ‘5.’


Top photo, Stonington ME from Flickr on thecrazytourist.com
The author from theguardian.com

[Revised, pictures and shelves added 12/19/22; edited 8/7/23]
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,309 reviews120k followers
October 6, 2021
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 protect. 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.

November 2019 - I just re-read Olive in anticipation of reading the sequel. This book blew me away on the second reading too. Here's my review of Olive, Again.

=============================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 - (and later saw the rest) dazzling! Must see!

10/6/21 - Strout's Kindle Notes & Highlights for Olive - It is delicious and informative
Profile Image for Julie G.
896 reviews2,925 followers
December 11, 2022
Today's the big day. . . my 500th review for Goodreads. Drum roll, please!

Hmmm. . .

No drum roll?

No compensation?

No accolades, either?

Ah, hell. I don't care. I just want to read and write and read and write and read and write, and almost every review I've ever written here on Goodreads, from the completely anonymous to the refreshingly well-received, has made me want to click my shiny red heels with joy.

And I don't need to close my eyes and intonate there's no place like home, there's no place like home, because I could be anywhere in this world, and, as long as I have a book or a pen in my hand, I am home.

There are few living writers today that take me home in the way that Elizabeth Strout does, or in the way that Olive Kitteridge did. Or, I should clarify. . . so few living writers today who can take me home AND make me homesick for a place I've never found, at the same time. It's a rare accomplishment.

In truth, the woman pisses me off.

Who does she think she is, sitting there, staring at her blank screen, dreaming up 13 short stories that come together as a novel that brilliantly gives you enough glimpses of one woman, one Olive Kitteridge to give her the staying power to become iconic? (And go on to be immortalized by Frances McDormand in the 2014 miniseries that is not to be missed).

Who does she think she is, dreaming up characters you either love or hate in this quirky town of Crosby, Maine, and making you think that you might want to live in that God-forsaken, bitter cold place?

Who does she think she is, making you hate Olive, then seeing yourself so vividly in her, you must put the book down for a moment to stare at your fidgety fingers in discomfort?

Poor Olive, she didn't like to be alone. Even more, she didn't like being with people.

Poor Olive, realizing that deep down there is a thing inside [her] and sometimes it swells up like the head of a squid and shoots blackness through [her].

Poor Olive, she would have sat on a patch of cement anywhere to have this—her son; a bright buoy bobbing in the bay of her own quiet terror.

Poor Olive, How could anyone be afraid of her? She was the one who was afraid!

I connected and related to Olive so deeply, I spoke out loud to her a few times, during this re-read. I wanted her to know that I understood, that I often felt the same way. I didn't want her to feel alone.

This isn't a perfect novel. A couple of the stories (that have too little Olive in them) lag; but I wasn't looking for perfection, just the absence of pretension.

No pretension here, people. Just the pure act of writing without judgement and a story that clearly emerged from the deepest, loneliest passages of Elizabeth Strout's gut.

This is one of those stories that takes you home, to that imperfect place you call home here on earth, and, yes, you're going to get a little homesick once you get there, too.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
February 1, 2021
I don't quite understand what the hubbub was about this book: it did after all get a Pulitzer and TV show. However, I felt that the writing was ok, the narration was interesting, but I never even came close to feeling some sympathy or connection to Olive like I did for Updike's Rabbit Angstrom or, say, Bellow's Dean Corde. The New England she describes as anti-Semitic and full of silent scandals was more interesting and fun in, say Updike's Witches of Eastwick. It was a little unsettling and disappointing to leave most of the stories in suspension (if not all of them) and I felt that the Christopher character and his two wives were pretty two dimensional. The overall aura was oppressive and depressing. I am not sure I would come back to this one.

I just reread Olive because I thought perhaps I missed something during my first read and because I felt I enjoyed the sequel Olive Again more that the original. Well, I think I will give it an additional star for the quality of the writing and the variety of stories. I still had an hard time sympathizing with many of the characters and found the stories more depressing than uplifting. I think the overall atmosphere is summarized in this quote from the story Security when Olive visits her emotionally distant and newly remarried son, Christopher as she sits with his pregnant wife who was smoking:
Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how every person in the world was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of horror that life increasingly became. People thought love would do it, and maybe it did. But even if, thinking of the smoking Ann, it took three different kids with three different fathers, it was never enough, was it?
I can understand that the stories would have a certain power, but just not one that I could fully appreciate.

My rating of all the Pulitzer Winners: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1...
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,723 followers
December 16, 2017
Oh bestill my heart. I am not worthy. I AM NOT WORTHY!

How, in the name of all that is holy, does Elizabeth Strout do it? I mean, how does she create a book out of a collage of stories, linked by one exceptionally prickly, ornery yet honest character, through writing that is at once complex and invitingly simple? HOW?

This 2009 Pulitzer winner is fully deserving of its accolades and superfans. I read this with keen interest and pleasure all the way through. It's a collection of 13 stories which could stand alone, but which are linked because they take place in the same small community of Crosby, Maine and feature (either prominently or in the background) caustic but decent Olive Kitteridge. Each story is so intimate. Through the everyday lives of these people, Strout delves deep into the heart. Almost to the point where I felt I was reading someone's diary. I really felt I knew these people.

I've heard complaints that this book is depressing. Really? Have you looked at real life, lately? God. For some reason after I finished reading this book I thought about some long-time family friends. Friends of my parents - both teachers, lovely people. He played organ at their church. She kept their beautiful home neat as a pin. They had two kids, one of which has Down syndrome (and who still lives with them part time today at the age of 38). As the years went on, she developed migraines and a heart condition. Then their house was lost in a flood and they got no insurance money, had to start over financially at retirement age. Their relationship with their daughter is complex and often unpleasant, so it's not always easy to see their three grandchildren. He has now been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. So it goes.

This is life... it's not always pretty. It's not easy. We all struggle and go through the shit. And in the midst of the shit, there are these revelatory, redemptive moments. Maybe they are private moments, maybe not. Maybe they don't change the trajectory of our lives, maybe they do. But they make it all worthwhile. And that is just what Strout captures so brilliantly: the human experience.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,192 reviews1,816 followers
December 19, 2022

Frances McDormand interpreta Olive nella versione televisiva diretta da Lisa Cholodenko andata in onda nel 20014.

Paolo Cognetti mi ha condutto da ‘Olive Kitteridge’: il suo bel Sofia si veste sempre di nero ha preparato il terreno, e quando lui ha elencato alcune delle sue fonti di ispirazione, non ho potuto fare a meno di leggere il libro di Strout.

In effetti, le due opere hanno una struttura molto simile, sono romanzi costruiti tramite una teoria di racconti che potrebbero vivere da soli, e invece, tenuti insieme compongono un romanzo.
Intelaiatura che a me piace e affascina parecchio (vedi anche la Egan di Il tempo è un bastardo e la Munro di Chi ti credi di essere?).

La miniserie di quattro episodi, più che dignitosa trasposizione televisiva, è stata girata principalmente in Massachusetts, non nel Maine.

Nel caso di Strout, sono anche più indipendenti che nel caso di Sofia: all’interno di ogni singolo racconto, Strout ripete notazioni già dette, ribadisce dettagli, proprio come se i suoi racconti fossero nati per vivere separati, e solo in seguito collegati.

In questa raccolta romanzo, i vari racconti (tredici) dipingono una piccola comunità provinciale del Maine sul finire dello scorso millennio fino ai giorni nostri, dopo l’attentato alle Torri Gemelle, che viene citato più di una volta.
In quasi tutti i racconti compare lei, Olive Kitteridge, a volte di sfuggita, a volte di sfondo, o di passaggio, oppure protagonista assoluta.

Jim Broadbent interpreta Henry, il marito di Olive, più paziente di Giobbe.

Olive Kitteridge probabilmente non è la persona più interessante del Maine. Sa anche essere piuttosto insopportabile, se non addirittura ottusa e odiosa. Spesso viene voglia di allontanarsi da lei, viene voglia di scappare, proprio come ha fatto suo figlio Christopher che un bel giorno ha messo quattromila e passa chilometri di distanza fra sé e la madre e dalla costa Est s’è trasferito in California.
Faccio fatica a capire come Olive sia riuscita ad appropriarsi del titolo dell’opera, per giunta in solitario – come abbia fatto a essere la star di questo film, io avrei scelto altri protagonisti, tra i tanti personaggi che Strout presenta, a cominciare dal marito.

La famiglia Kitteridge riunita a cena.

Olive è qualcuno di cui si dice che aveva un atteggiamento al di là di ogni giustificazionei, e ci si domanda come il marito faccia a sopportarla (e in effetti, Henry, il marito farmacista, ha sempre provato un insolito intenso piacere nell’uscire di casa al mattino per andare al lavoro, molto più vivo del piacere di rientrare in casa la sera).
Il figlio, ormai grande, in procinto di diventare anche padre, le dice con calma e franchezza: Tu hai un pessimo carattere…sei capace di far stare malissimo gli altri. Hai fatto stare malissimo papà…

Tuttavia, grazie all’abilità di Strout, e forse anche all’imponente stazza, Olive è paradigmatica e sembra quasi contenere e accogliere e comprendere l’intera comunità di Crosby, Maine.

Elizabeth Strout lavora sulle situazioni, le descrizioni, i dettagli, istantanee, tessere, atmosfere, apparenti divagazioni, più che vere trame.
E così, il mosaico si compone guardandolo tutto insieme, non isolando i pezzetti, fotogramma dopo fotogramma il film si forma.

Non sceglie solo il tran tran, la quotidianità banale, la stupefacente normalità dei viventi, come sostiene Baricco, ci sono situazioni fuori dall’ordinario (se non altro, c’è da sperare che non siano situazioni quotidiane): c’è chi cade in mare dalla scarpata per raccogliere fiori e chi si lancia in salvataggio (non si saprà mai se ce la fanno o meno) - ci sono tossici mascherati che sequestrano degli ostaggi - una ragazzina muore di anoressia – un matrimonio viene disdetto il giorno della celebrazione, con la chiesa piena di invitati e la sposa in abito bianco…

Elizabeth Strout sa che anche molti buoni matrimoni nascondono la solitudine di uno dei due partner, o di entrambi: e anche in presenza di un amore solido, un incontro può essere più fatale di quanto si vorrebbe.
In una piccola comunità, è più facile che l’amante di tuo marito sia anche una tua amica: e più la comunità è piccola, e più è facile che sia anche la tua migliore amica.
Se non lo è, è comunque qualcuno che conosci, che incroci e incontri.

E così, man mano, questa piccola città della provincia americana, questo peytonplace, diventa familiare molto più di Orte o Forlì - l’immaginario americano è più forte di quello italiano, non c’è nulla da fare, oltreoceano hanno sempre capito che la cultura è un ottimo mezzo per trasmettere al mondo i propri modelli (e quindi, occupare potere).

Alla morte del marito, Olive sembra trovare un po’ di consolazione in compagnia del nuovo vicino di casa, interpretato da Bill Murray. Due solitudini che si incontrano brevemente.

Siamo dalle parti di Anne Tyler, non solo geograficamente, ma anche come tono (scrittura liscia e piana come un tavolo di biliardo, senza impennate, tutti pensano di sapere tutto, ma in realtà nessuno sa mai un cavolo di niente), mi riferisco alla Tyler dell’epoca migliore (Ristorante Nostalgia) prima che cominciasse a ripetere se stessa a usura.

Non tutto è sempre credibile, la mano di Strout non è abile alla stessa maniera in tutte le pagine.

L’ambientazione è un piccolo paese del Maine, con il bar del molo, il negozio che vende ciambelle, il liceo dove insegnava Olive, la farmacia gestita dal marito.

Poi, proprio come nel libro di Cognetti, sembra che l’ultimo capitolo-racconto debba essere decisamente inferiore a tutti quelli che hanno preceduto.
In questo caso m’immagino che sia andata così: Strout ha fatto leggere il manoscritto a un’amica che le ha detto “è molto bello Liz, mi piace. Ma quanto dolore! Quanto grigio e quanta amarezza! Anche il mare sembra sempre grigio e agitato, mai una volta che mettesse la voglia di fare il bagno!”
E allora Strout ha aperto il barattolo della melassa e l’ha rovesciato intero nell’ultimo racconto: con il risultato di lasciarmi a bocca amara per eccesso di zucchero.


E così non posso fare a meno di chiedermi se il mondo non sarebbe un posto migliore senza gente come Olive Kitteridge che, per una manciata di momenti di comprensione e calore e viva comunicazione, ha sparso e distribuito tonnellate di acidità e sgradevolezza.
E mi chiedo anche quale sia la libidine di riconoscere qualcuno degli abitanti di Crosby, Maine, nel proprio dirimpettaio o nel macellaio, come se con i vicini non bastasse averci a che fare quotidianamente già qui, in Rome, Italy.

Mi piace l’entusiasmo di Baricco per questo libro, gli genera belle parole, tipo queste:
Quasi tutti i personaggi fotografati sono anziani, o sull’orlo della pensione, o giù di lì. Bisogna vederli, infagottati in quella loro pelle di carta velina, mentre spiano i battiti del cuore, un po’ a vigilare sull’eventuale infarto, e un po’ a registrare, stupefatti, l’ostinata epifania di desideri fuori tempo massimo. Sono magnifici quando si chinano sul libro mastro della loro vita a calcolare, mettendo in colonna i ricordi, una somma che non viene mai. Covano rimorsi per cui non hanno più tempo, e rimpianti che fanno fatica a ricordare. Leggono il giornale, costernati dall’aver dimenticato quale è stato il preciso momento in cui hanno cessato di avere delle opinioni. Ogni tanto squilla il telefono, e forse è uno dei figli, ormai grandi, ma poi non lo è quasi mai, e allora tornano a sciabattare in quelle loro piccole case rese enormi dal silenzio, e dalle stanze vuote. Tuttavia sono capaci di ridere, ognuno ha un segreto a cui si scalda nell’inverno di quel crepuscolo, e tutti sanno che è un dono, ogni mossa della vita – anche quel giallo del bosco, o lo zucchero sulla ciambella.

Tra i protagonisti più ricorrenti, i tulipani che Olive pianta ogni anno, e la mirica cerifea, l’albero della cera tipico del nord America.

Crosby, Maine, luogo letterario.
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,647 followers
August 16, 2019
This novel is definitely about Olive Kitteridge: who she is, who she was, and most importantly, the “who” that she sees within herself.

Her story is told through a series of connected stories: friends, neighbours, past students, people she knows in passing. It is interesting, and oh, so intriguing, that many people view her from so many different perspectives, yet there are also common threads of viewpoint.

Many of the stories are not about Olive Kitteridge at all, yet she moves in and out of each story – sometimes as a presence to be reckoned with, sometimes like a wraith, sometimes as someone who is or was feared, sometimes as someone to be pitied or even scorned.

Elizabeth Strout’s writing is confident and strong, as are some of her characters. She allows us to feel the full impact of these character’s personalities. On the surface, these are people we could meet and experience in our everyday lives. Elizabeth Strout takes us on a journey that skims the surface and then takes us deeper and deeper into the characters – their thoughts, feelings; the inner lives where all is definitely not as it appears at first glance.

The psychological depths are fascinating because although the spotlight shines on one or two characters per chapter (or story), it is often in how others respond or react to them that we gain the most insight. And it is those insights that gave me further insight into myself – and my own family and friends.

Although this is primarily Olive Kitteridge’s story, it illustrates so well that no matter how isolated one feels, or lonely, or oppressed, or confused, or blissfully oblivious, not one of us is an island. The world, the people in it – we are all in motion and that motion has impact: ours on others and others’ on us.

This is a novel whose stories can be found everywhere, and we are so fortunate that Elizabeth Strout’s gift brings us that realization, but also envelopes us in our shared humanity and tells us it is okay to be who we are and to continue growing into who we want to be.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
November 14, 2010
I've listened to 4 stories out of 13 and I think I've had enough. This book should come with a Depressed Senior Citizen Characters warning. I am sure my impression of this book is colored by the awful narrator/actor who read every character, regardless of the age and gender, as a 80-year old screeching and bleating elderly person (no offense to elderly), but the fact is the majority (if not all) of characters are old and/or miserable.

1/4th of the book is over, and I have encountered: an elderly man pining over a young woman; a bitter and jealous elderly wife (Olive Kitteridge herself); their miserable son getting married and finally moving out of his parents' house at the ripe age of 38; a single 50-year old woman - a piano player, an alcoholic and a lover of a married man. And this tiny town, where the story is set, has the highest number of suicidal/depressed people I've encountered in literature. The whole atmosphere of Olive Kitteridge is just so dreary, dull and depressing, with not a moment of hope or joy.

Yeah, I am done with it.
Profile Image for emma.
1,867 reviews54.4k followers
April 15, 2020
Every once in a while in a review, I will try to make a precarious point, in which my argument comes very close to making me sound like a huge asshole (when in fact it should only make me sound like kind of an asshole, like always).

So here’s the thing.

I don’t think anyone is wrong or judgmental or any other negative thing for liking this book.

I do, however, think it was written to make a certain group of people feel better about themselves, at the expense of another, larger group.

I will explain.

This is a book of stories about people who live in a small town in rural Maine. The stories are brought together by Olive Kitteridge, a retired curmudgeonly math teacher who is in some way or another involved in all of them.

In them: People die. People are cheated on. People contract deathly illnesses. People commit crimes. People fall out of love. People are arrested. People are abused. People have eating disorders and drug addictions. People love people who do not love them back, or love them in a toxic way. People are traumatized. People have mental breakdowns. People are poor. People are injured. People are heartbroken. People, in short, suffer.

Not only is not a single story a happy one - there is not a single happy moment in any one of these stories. Not a lasting minute of happiness for any character in this at all.

I struggle to find an explanation for that beyond this book being a sort of common-man-rural sorrow porn. This feels like a book written for ~coastal elites~ to read and say “Well at least I don't have a loveless, joyless existence in Nowhere, Maine. At least I'm not in some bumsville small town living a life of total suffering without the reward of so much as a moment's happiness.”

And I hate it. I did not enjoy this book for even one second.

Truly this is just like spitting in the face of someone who lives in a rural small town and then turning to some bozo who lives in New York City and being like “Aren’t you glad you’re not that person?”

I didn’t like any character. They were either hateful and cruel and flat, or absurdly nice and good and flat.

I didn’t even like the writing.

I was waiting for the grand revelations about life, or humanity, or interpersonal relationships (which you can usually find in award-winning books), but I didn’t get anything like that. Just unbelievably baseline stuff like “old people need to get laid too” and “moms who abuse their sons also have emotions, even though never once in this whole book will that be addressed in a satisfying way where the mom even feels bad or realizes she did something wrong.”

I don’t think I had unreasonable expectations of this book. I would’ve been content with a likable character or two OR beautiful writing OR a powerful theme OR a meaningful relationship or insight but...there was none of that here, in my opinion.

Bottom line: This was very upsetting, and, for me, entirely unrewarding.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews47 followers
December 25, 2021
Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge #1), Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge (2008) is a novel by American author Elizabeth Strout.

It presents a portrait of the title character and a number of recurring characters in the coastal town of Crosby, Maine. It takes the form of 13 short stories that are interrelated but discontinuous in terms of narrative. It won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Incoming Tide;
The Piano Player;
A Little Burst;
A Different Road;
Winter Concert;
Basket of Trips;
Ship in a Bottle;
and River.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نوزدهم فوریه سال2011میلادی

عنوان: آلیو کیتریج؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استروت (استراوت)؛ مترجم احسان شفیعی زرگر؛ سما قرایی؛ تهران، قطره، سال1389؛ در394ص؛ شابک9786001191596؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، گیسا، سال1394؛ در426ص؛ شابک9786006885575؛ موضوع داستانهای کوتاه از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده ی21م

این کتاب «آلیو کیتریج»، گردآوری سیزده داستان کوتاه به هم پیوسته است؛ این داستانها، در شهر ساحلی کوچکی، در ایالت «مًین» در «آمریکا» رخ میدهند، و حلقه ی پیوستگی آنها، شخصیت آموزگار بازنشسته ای، به نام «آلیو کیتریج» است؛ برخی از منتقدان، باور دارند، این کتاب را، میتوان رمانی در قالب داستانهای کوتاه دانست؛ و شاید تاکید بر اینکه، مجموعه ای از داستانهای کوتاه است، تا حدی گمراه کننده باشد؛ برخی نیز آن را فاقد ویژگیهای رمان میدانند؛ در شناسنامه کتاب، آنجا که معمولاً ذکر میشود «رمان»، یا «مجموعه داستان»، به کلمه ی «داستان» بسنده شده است؛ به هر حال این داستانها، کاملاً آزاد هستند، هرچند میتوان آنها را، به صورت فصلهای یک رمان خیال کرد؛ «استراوت» در گفتگویی در اینباره گفته اند: (نوشتن «آلیو کیتریج» با این فرم، تصمیمی بود، که در طول زمان، شکل گرفت؛ نخستین داستان «آلیو» را، سالها پیش نوشتم، و همان زمان فهمیدم، این شخصیت، روزی کتابی از آن خود، خواهد داشت، آن موقع نمیدانستم، این کتاب چه فرمی پیدا میکند، ولی پس از آنکه، صحنه های بیشتری را نوشتم، احساس کردم، «آلیو» چنان حضور نیرومندی دارد، که بهتر است، داستان او، اساساً به شکل «اپیزود» باشد؛ از سویی به زاویه ی دید هم، خیلی علاقه دارم، و دیدن «آلیو»، از نگاه دیگران، به خوانشگر، امکان میداد، تصویر کاملتری از او به دست بیاورد.) پایان نقل؛

شخصیت «آلیو کیتریج»، درباره ی آموزگار ریاضی بازنشسته، و بدخلقی است، که با داروساز آرامی به نام «هنری» ازدواج کرده؛ شخصیتی که از همسرش محبوبتر است، و خوانشگر، تا پایان کتاب با او، بیشتر از همه شخصیتها، آشنا میشود؛ «آلیو» و «هنری» یک فرزند دارند؛ پسری به نام «کریستوفر»، که وقتی از دانشگاه فارغ التحصیل میشود، و برمیگردد، نزدیک خانه ی خودشان، برایش خانه ای میسازند؛ امیدوارند «کریستوفر»، با زنی از اهالی همان شهر، ازدواج کند، و نوه دار شوند؛ ولی زنی که «کریستوفر» با او، ازدواج میکند، تشویقش میکند، به «سن فرانسیسکو» رخت بکشند؛ کمی بعد، که همسر «کریستوفر»، از او جدا میشود، «آلیو» با خوشحالی، فکر میکند، پسرش حالا به خانه برمیگردد؛ ولی او ترجیح میدهد، در «کالیفرنیا» بماند، و دل مادرش را بشکند؛ «آلیو» و «هنری»، گاهی در کانون کنش داستانی هستند، و گاه در حاشیه داستان میچرخند؛ ناشکیبایی، پشیمانی، و حتی نفرت، در زندگیشان ریشه دوانده است؛ «استراوت» با موشکافی و ظرافت، مسائل زندگی آنها را، به خوانشگر بازگو میکند؛

هنری، سرش را بلند کرد و گفت: «میدونی، آلی» چشمهایش خسته بود، و پوست دورشان قرمز شده بود، «در تمام این سالهایی که از ازدواجمان میگذره، در تمام این سالها، فکر نمیکنم، حتی یکبار هم معذرت خواسته باشی؛ برای هیچ چیز.»؛

آلیو حسابی سرخ شد؛ احساس میکرد، پوست صورتش زیر آفتاب میسوزد؛ گفت «خب، معذرت، معذرت، معذرت»؛ و عینک آفتابی اش را که گذاشته بود بالای سرش، برداشت، و دوباره به چشم زد؛ پرسید «میخوای چی بگی؟ از چی دلخوری؟ اصلاً این حرفا واسه چیه؟ عذر خواهی؟ خب، من معذرت میخوام؛ معذرت میخوام که همچین زن مزخرفی هستم»؛

آلیو زنی است با جثه درشت، مستعد حالتهای ناگهانی، و خشم آلود است، غالباً در قضاوت عجله میکند و خشمگین است، و آزردگیهای ژرفش را به سرعت بر زبان میآورد؛ دوست داشتنی نیست؛ با کلماتی مثل: «خنگ»، و «ابله»، «دست و پا چلفتی»؛ دیگران را فراری میدهد؛ پسرش «کریستوفر»، تلاش میکند، از حضور سلطه جوی او بگریزد، و دچار افسردگی است؛ یکی از زنهای مسن شهر میگوید: «در رفتار آلیو مطلقاً جایی برای عذرخواهی وجود نداشت»؛

هرچه داستانها پیش میرود، تصویر «آلیو» پیچیده تر میشود؛ او میتواند سرً پسرش فریاد بزند، و به او دشنام بدهد، ولی در عین حال دوستش دارد، آنقدر که از تحملش بیرون است؛ شوهرش مرد مهربانی است، و «آلیو» او را هم دوست دارد، گو اینکه ابراز علاقه، برایش آسان نیست؛ همانقدر که ناگهان از کوره درمیرود، یکباره میزند زیر خنده، و دلش حتی برای غریبه ها هم میسوزد؛ «الیزابت استراوت» شخصیت «آلیو کیتریج» را در همه ی داستان ها، حتی شده خیلی کوتاه، به صحنه میآورد، و خوانشگر، رفته رفته متوجه میشود، این قطعات مستقل، و به دقت پرداخت شده، روی هم چرخه ی روایتی را شکل میدهند، که چیزی نیست جز «داستان زندگی آلیو کیتریج»؛

سرکار خانم «الیزابت استراوت» میگویند: «شخصیت آلیو برای من، از همه شخصیتهای دیگر کتاب جذابتر است؛ وحشی، پیچیده، بامحبت، و بیرحم است؛ در واقع کمی از هر کدام ما در او هست»؛ پایان نقل از روزنامه اعتماد البته با ویرایش بسیار؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 03/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
September 24, 2020
It's incredibly difficult to find substance in the ordinary. This novel in episodes, all revolving around the ever enigmatic Olive, does something extraordinary: each tale is so rich with description, so tangible (I believe I breathed in the saltiness of the Maine coast, practically) that they ...transcend. There is actually nothing innovatory in Elizabeth Strout's fantastic short story collection but she knows perfectly well how to orchestrate a fabulous and gut-wrenching short story: every single one of her thirteen becomes a flawless portrait in & of itself. In the fictional town of Crosby, Maine, the skeletons-in-the-denizen's-closets include thoughts of suicide, deaths, marriages, affairs. Somehow, the only other writer that's able to manifest this type of impact on the reader is Jhumpa Lahiri (it is little coincidence that her beauty of a novel, "Interpreter of Maladies" like "Olive Kitteridge" also won the Pulitzer). The literature of today is about strong, emotionally-charged episodes, readings as comforting as donuts (a motif in the novel) to the reader. The theme shall never become a cliche: To appreciate what you have when you have it, regardless of your age or gender. Everybody is human after all.
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,557 followers
October 6, 2021
Olive Kitteridge is a Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction, breath-taking in its beauty and eloquence. The novel’s structure is 13 episodic stories, which provide a candid and searching insight into a small community in the coastal town of Crosby in Maine. It would be unfortunate to race through the pages without savouring the atmosphere, the wonderful sense of time, and the rich array of fascinating characters that enhance the human relationships on display. It takes the little breaks between stories to reflect on the mastery of prose and the observational expression of Elizabeth Strout.

Olive Kitteridge is an indomitable presence throughout the book. Some stories have the faintest mention of Olive, while in others, she impacts with the overbearing resolve of a woman determined to get what she wants. Olive is rarely the focal point, but she acts as a magnet drawing each story to exist in her presence.

Olive is an ex-school teacher, a tall and often clumsy woman, but as the years progress, she becomes big,
“… her ankles puffed out, her shoulders rolled up behind her neck, and her wrists and hands seemed to become the size of a man’s. Olive minds – of course, she does; sometimes, privately, she minds very much. But at this stage of the game, she is not about to abandon the comfort of food, and that means right now she probably looks like a fat dozing seal wrapped in some kind of gauze bandage.”
Olive has a formidable presence and a complexity that is intriguing and undefinable. While she offers minimal filter in her comments and consideration of others and thinks it ludicrous to cry at weddings, she cries when she sees a young anorexic girl, Nina.
“Olive shook her head again, blew her nose. She looked at Nina and said quietly, ‘I don’t know who you are, but young lady, you’re breaking my heart.’
‘I’m not trying to,’ said Nina, defensively. ‘It’s not like I can help it.’
‘Oh, I know that. I know.’ Olive nodded.”

The first story is a touching story of her husband, Harry, a pharmacist, and his relationship with a young married assistant who tragically loses her husband. The relationship is subtly transformed from a platonic friendship to the delicate suggestion of deeper feelings as he imagines what life would be like with this young woman. The emotional conflict burdens him until he finally asks Olive if she will ever leave him. “Oh, for God’s sake Henry. You could make a woman sick.” she responds.

Most of the following stories reverberate with a sense of betrayal. You can feel the connection with the characters, laugh through incidents, be astounded by some events, nod in recognition with many, and shed a tear or two at others. The writing is emotionally stimulating and reveals vivid moments that give breath to sentiments you may not have expected.

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is a beautiful reading experience infused with beautiful prose, images and feelings that we all encounter or witness throughout our lives. I would highly recommend this book. I jumped to read this book after it sitting on my bookshelf for so long because the sequel, Olive, Again, was due for release on 31st October this year.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews497 followers
March 25, 2009
don't know if it was me being meditative or moody or under the sobering influence of the recession, but i found this absolutely gorgeous book SO DAMN SAD. there are, let's see, at least two suicides but it might be three, three deaths but it might be more (one the death of a very young person), intolerably sad aging folks, a myriad broken relationships, and a ton of god-awful loneliness. how can a town as sweet and stably populated as crosby, maine, foster so much loneliness? aren't small towns supposed to be all about people knowing each other and supporting each other and all that? why don't the lonely people go hang out at the diner and have themselves a cup of coffee, chat the day away? i mean, really. i understand being alone in miami or new york or los angeles, but how can you be so lonely in crosby, maine?

i guess american writers and filmmakers have worked very hard at showing us that you can be plenty lonely in small town america, but somehow this is sinking in now for the first time, thanks to Olive Kitteridge. i think i'll stay in the big city, where at least you can be lonely with some privacy, out of the probing gaze of your gossiping neighbors.

but see, gossip is this two-sided thing. one the one hand, it can cut you down and shrink you (if you let it). on the other, it keeps people talking. when someone dies, everyone shows up at the funeral. when someone goes to the hospital, everyone asks after them. maybe the person who is asked would rather be left alone, but there's something to be said in favor of being asked (this is actually the point of one of these thirteen stories). a gossiping community is a community in which everyone is mourned. there is no indifference and almost never glee at people's death, however disliked they may have been in life. groups come together for the death of their own. this is something to be said for small towns.

and after all, no one is immune to loneliness. it's the human condition. which is precisely why this book is so sad: one would rather not be reminded.

in one lovely scene (there are countless lovely scenes in this book) olive kitterdidge finds out that an elderly man, an out-of-towner she stopped to talk to, just lost his wife of a lifetime. "then you are in hell," she says, matter-of-factly. "then i am in hell," he replies.

olive kitteridge, the nominal protagonist of this "novel in stories," is a masterpiece of writerly wisdom. she is wrong and intolerable in all sorts of ways: she is rude, judgmental, selfish, a bad mother, and a bad wife. she is ungainly and has bad taste in clothing. she is one of those people who, by rights, should not be much liked, and in fact she isn't. but to us she is us. if we were her, we'd find a way to come to terms with ourselves and be proud of at least something. so we come to terms with olive kitteridge. we forgive her. we forgive ourselves. we return over and over to the things she/we did well, that one time when she/we saved a person's life without much awareness of what we were doing; that other time when this kid who didn't talk to anyone talked to her/us.

it's amazing how a novel that does not focus entirely on one character (in some of the stories she is just named once or twice) should manage to make this character, nonetheless, so real and compelling. the compulsion is to identify with her.

but maybe it was me, bummed and worried about the recession and not too pleased with myself. i identified. identification is the path to compassion. this book helped me be see others, maybe myself too, with a little more compassion.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
760 reviews569 followers
July 1, 2022
Why I chose to listen to this audiobook:
1. several GR friends' positive reviews intrigued me enough to add it to my WTR list;
2. the synopsis mentions main character, Olive Kitteridge, as a retired schoolteacher, so that really moved me to check it out (being a retired schoolteacher myself!); and,
3. this audiobook finally became available for me to borrow on Overdrive.

1. I must be in the suitable age range to appreciate this story because several characters really resonated with me! Compiled into several short stories, all are strongly character-driven (which I like) with Olive Kitteridge playing various major or minor roles in each. Olive's character really blew me away! Sometimes I laughed with her, sometimes I sympathized with her, and sometimes I cringed at her behavior. Is she a likeable character? Not always, but oh my, is she ever believable! This might scare some people, but I think, especially as we get older, that we all have a little Olive inside of us;
2. to expand, as I was listening to this audiobook, I would be so engrossed - it felt so real, so raw, that I could easily relate to several characters. Their emotional struggles were so naturalistic! As Olive states in the final story, her life has been filled with "gratitude and regrets". So true! and,
3. narrator Kimberley Farr's delivery was spot on! Her tone, fluency and enunciation made these characters come alive!

What's with most of the married men, in this small (fictional) town of Crosby, Maine, having an affair or have had an affair? Oh well, it just made me feel more attuned with their wives' stories, which at times made me cry!

Overall Thoughts:
Some readers didn't like this book because they didn't like Olive. I don't think she was meant to be liked! It's actually refreshing to have a MC who is unlikable! In fact, I could relate to her on so many levels. Sure, she was sharp-tongued and brutally honest (and sometimes downright nasty), but she was so real !

Yes, especially for readers 50+ and/or who have encountered many life experiences!
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
March 29, 2019
You don’t have to love Olive Kitteridge to love Olive Kitteridge. Thinking of Olive the person, to say she’s multidimensional doesn’t go far enough. I need a new word—hyperdimensional, maybe. And she’s often at the extremes, in ways that may be positive, negative, paradoxical, or shifting. She’s the central figure in every other one of the 13 separate stories, and in the ones that focus on others she’s a secondary reference point (though hardly a fixed one). We certainly get a chance to know her many sides.

Olive had taught seventh grade math at the local school in Crosby, Maine, and was well-known if not uniformly well-liked around town. People did consistently think well of her husband Henry, the friendly pharmacist and church regular, which sometimes grated on her nerves.
"Never trust folks," Olive's mother told her years ago, after someone left a basket of cow flaps by their front door. Henry got irritated by that way of thinking. But Henry was pretty irritating himself, with his steadfast way of remaining naive, as though life were just what a Sears catalogue told you it was: everyone standing around smiling.

We get a sense early on that Olive is forthright in her opinions. You could even lose the euphemism and call her blunt or abrasive:
She said: "You're the one who can't stand these Hail-Mary Catholics! Your mother taught you that! Pauline was the only real Christian in the world, as far as Pauline was concerned. And her good boy, Henry."

Then at other times she came across as kind. In one story, she met an anorexic girl who quite unexpectedly brought Olive to tears. Her empathy seemed to grow with her own later-in-life self-awareness.
Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how desperately hard every person in the world was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of terror that life increasingly became. People thought love would do it, and maybe it did. But […] it was never enough, was it?

Olive was a fascinating character with traits that occasionally seemed at odds with one another. This, from the book, speaks to that: “She didn't like being alone. Even more, she didn't like being with people.” She was also stoic while vulnerable, unapologetic while sensitive, and perceptive about plights while blind to her own role in causing them. I could go on a lot longer identifying her quirks, but that would be very un-Strout-like of me do so. We get our impressions of each person with a wonderful economy of words.

With all of Olive’s attributes I’ve mentioned, the other characters bring that many more. One thing they share is something Strout talked about afterwards:
In order to imagine what it feels like to be another person I have to use my own experiences and responses to the world. I have to pay attention to what I have felt and observed, then push these responses to an extreme while keeping the story within the realm of being psychologically and emotionally true.

The feeling that her characters were human and real came through on every page. And like actual people we know, their lives can’t be captured by a single tile of a mosaic. I came to really appreciate the structure of the book that had so many perspectives and viewing angles. Half an hour into the book I told my wife this seemed like a 3.5 to 4 star book—pretty good, but with a main character I thought was unidimensionally unlikeable. Half an hour later, with more tiles in place, I told her it was a 4.5 to 5 stars, and it only went up from there.

It’s not a long book, but it presents its themes well. Family dynamics feature prominently. Olive and Henry’s son was an interesting result of Olive’s variability, not always a happy one. I’ve mentioned very little of the stories focusing on other people in town, but they had plenty of heft too. Grief, loneliness, love, infidelity, aging, thoughts of ending it all, and the simple challenges of everyday life—it’s all addressed with writing that’s both artful and clear. And as Olive and the others come to learn more of themselves, we may learn more of ourselves as well.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,481 followers
January 22, 2020
Oh Olive. You are a character I despise and love at the same time. A negative nily who somehow embeds herself into my heart. Maybe because you are so real. And transparent.

I’m not a fan of short stories but I am a Strout fan. I was delighted to find this one so easy to embrace and I became fully immersed in this charming story that takes place in a small town. Through the 12 lives of what the story is about, the common thread is Olive.

Olive isn’t a well liked person. She reeks negativity and bitterness. But, when her husband has a stroke, she becomes more self aware and begins to shed this animosity and through resiliency is able to find comfort again. A very memorable character.
Need to get to the sequel ASAP!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,322 reviews2,142 followers
February 19, 2020
I recently read My Name Is Lucy Barton and enjoyed Lucy so much I was predisposed to like Olive as well. Olive Kitteridge is of course a Pulitzer prize winner but that can be a good or a bad thing.

This is a series of short stories bound together by the character of Olive. She sometimes appears briefly and sometimes features largely in the narratives. As the reader we are obliged to formulate our own opinions of her character from the many ways she is viewed by the other characters in the stories. Of course some of these opinions are not favourable especially those of her own son.

For me she was an intriguing, intelligent woman who had little time for the shortcomings of others. She appeared to do her job as a school teacher well, and she certainly cared for her students particularly when they were in trouble of any kind. I really felt for her when she started to lose her own way towards the end of the book.

This is a slow, quiet book, beautifully written and worth reading with your full attention. I was totally absorbed by the little stories about marriages, families and loss. Definitely worth that Pulitzer and five stars from me.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews852 followers
June 5, 2016
The best novel I've read since joining Goodreads is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The second best is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Published in 2008 and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this collection of thirteen stories all feature or focus on a retired seventh grade math teacher in the fictional seaside town of Crosby, Maine as she enters the winter of her life, still in possession of the vinegar her former students or fellow townsfolk have tasted for years. Like Steinbeck, Strout's canvas is big and her work is bold, infused with subtle wit and passion, and is undiluted by commercial considerations while in the pursuit of emotional honesty. This novel made me think about my life, particularly my relationship with my Olive-like mother.

In the first chapter, simply labeled "Pharmacy," Strout opens us to the life of Henry Kitteridge, a mild-mannered man who likes people, doesn't like to hear from cursing and never misses church or a civic activity. His wife is Olive doesn't like most people, stops attending Sunday service and sees through people to their flaws or frailties while her husband, a pharmacist, is more sympathetic (or naïve, depending on your point of view). Henry hires a bright newlywed named Denise Thibodeau to help around the pharmacy. Denise's husband is also named Henry and Henry Kitteridge's year with the young couple is one of the happiest in his life, if not the happiest. Like most things, it doesn't last.

He passes by where the pharmacy used to be. In its place now is a large chain drugstore with huge glass sliding doors, covering the ground where both the old pharmacy and grocery store stood, large enough so that the back parking lot where Henry would linger with Denise by the dumpster at the day's end before getting into their separate cars--all this is now taken over by a store that sells not only drugs, but huge rolls of paper towels and boxes of all sizes of garbage bags. Even plates and mugs can be bought here, spatulas, cat food. The trees off to the side have been cut down to make a parking lot. You get used to things, he thinks, without getting used to things.

In the fourth chapter, "A Little Burst," Olive Kitteridge marries off her only child, Christopher, a sensitive boy who grows up to be a podiatrist. Christopher caps a six week romance to a visiting gastroenterologist named Dr. Suzanne Bernstein (Dr. Sue) with a wedding. Olive notes that for all of her knowledge, Dr. Sue doesn't know a thing about flowers, one of Olive's remaining passions. The Kittreidges have built Christopher a house which the couple envisions being filled with grandchildren. But Olive is torn apart by the loss of her son and sequesters herself in their bedroom during the reception. Olive and Christopher's relationship has been strenuous, and she questions whether she's been a good mother.

Olive, on the edge of the bed, leans her face into her hands. She can almost not remember the first decade of Christopher's life, although some things she does remember and doesn't want to. She tried teaching him to play the piano and he wouldn't play the notes right. It was how scared he was of her that made her go all wacky. But she loved him! She would like to say this to Suzanne. She would like to say, Listen, Dr. Sue, deep down there is a thing inside me, and sometimes it swells up like the head of a squid and shoots blackness through me. I haven't wanted it to be this way, but so help me, I have loved my son.

In the fifth chapter, "Starving," Harmon Newton is also drawn to the vitality of a young couple, a boy named Tim working at the sawmill for the summer and his ragamuffin girlfriend Nina, whom Tim met following Phish on tour. Harmon's house empty save his emotionally distant wife Bonnie, he's indulged in an affair with a young widow named Daisy Foster. Harmon decides to return his relationship with Daisy to its platonic roots, which Daisy accepts with grace and the two remain good friends. The troubled Nina, an anorexic, loses her boyfriend and her lodging and is taken in by Daisy. When Olive Kitteridge drops by to collect for the Salvation Army, she is overpowered by how sick Nina is and joins Harmon and Daisy is trying to see the girl receives treatment.

You started to expect things at a certain age. Harmon knew that. You worried about heart attacks, cancer, the cough that turned into a ferocious pneumonia. You could even expect to have a kind of midlife crisis--but there was nothing to explain what he felt was happening to him, that he'd been put into a transparent plastic capsule that rose off the ground and was tossed and blown and shaken so fiercely that could not possibly his way back to the quotidian pleasures of his past life. Desperately, he did not want this. And yet, after that morning at Daisy's, when Nina had cried, and Daisy had gotten on the phone, making arrangements for the parents to come and get her--after that morning, the sight of Bonnie made him feel cold.

"Sad," "bleak," "boring," "couldn't stand the main character" are a few of the criticisms I've spotted in other reviews and I suppose if all you focus on is Olive Kitteridge or her darkest, most negative thoughts, you could feel that way about Olive Kitteridge. I found a whole lot more going on beneath the surface here than harshness. Going back to John Steinbeck and why he's my favorite author and creator of my favorite novel, Strout infuses her novel not with self-satisfied language or false hope, but with storytelling, namely, a wonderful amount of wit and passion. For example:

Olive had graduated magna cum laude from college. And Henry's mother had actually not liked that. Imagine. Pauline had actually said something about magna cum laude girls being plain and not having much fun ... Well, Olive was not going to spoil this moment thinking of Pauline. She finished up, washed her hands, and looked around as she stuck them under the dryer, thinking how the bathroom was huge, big enough to do surgery in. It was because of people in wheelchairs. Nowadays you got sued if you didn't build something big enough for a wheelchair, but she'd rather somebody just shoot her if it came to that.


It has taken Marlene years to stop calling her Mrs. Kitteridge, which is what happens when you have people in school. And of course the opposite is true, which is that Olive continues to see half the town as kids, as she can still see Ed Bonney and Marlene Monroe as young schoolkids, falling in love, walking home day after day from school. When they reached Crossbow Corners, they would stand and talk, and sometimes Olive would see them there as late as five o'clock, because Marlene had to go one way and Ed the other.

Olive is a retired seventh grade math teacher; my mother is a retired fifth grade science teacher. Olive is from Maine; my parents are from Texas. These are not soft people. Christopher has had a complicated relationship with his mother and made her cry; I have had the same experiences with my mother. Teachers can be authoritative and do not often accept that people won't do what they've decided would be best for them. I identified with Henry, who could be in love with a tough, intelligent woman like Olive without suffering as she suffers. He irritates his wife incessantly and Olive even considers leaving him at one point, but comes to realize that she has no better friend in the world.

This is such a powerful character. What I valued in her was her honesty. This might be considered an affliction, but it is definitely not a weakness. The truth can be ugly. Strout understands that there are people like Henry Kitteridge who need to be helpful, building bridges and looking on the bright side but there are also people like Olive Kitteridge who'd rather be sick with misery at times but see things as they really are. This power has made students wary of her, like they'd beware a witch. Certain kids exhibiting signs of anxiety in her class would likely find Mrs. Kitteridge starting at them and later, confiding to them that if they ever needed to talk to someone they could talk to her. Olive knows.

The novel stops short at complete and total satisfaction with two stories I felt most removed from Olive Kitteridge and her world--"Criminal," in which a pyromaniac young woman reaches out of her loneliness to a catalogue company call center operator, and "Ship In a Bottle," in which an 11-year-old watches her neurotic mother and older sister, jilted at the altar, bounce off each other. These chapters struggled to hold my attention but coming late in the book, made me want to spend more time with Olive. I can't fault Strout for making her title character such a strong presence.

I could feel Olive Kitteridge changing me while I was reading it. The novel makes me want to call or write my parents more than I do, even if it's to reiterate things I've said and that they already know. It also makes me more conscious than ever of my dark side, how it's important not to be as naïve as Henry, perhaps, nor as acidic in thought as Olive, when negativity sometimes makes it difficult for her to get out of bed. This book makes me appreciate that as often as we hear not to take life for granted, there are consequences for this that can branch you off whatever trail you're on in life and take you to a wilderness you may not like when you get there. Strout explores these pathways with grace, beauty and an absolute ardor for life.
Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 18 books1,594 followers
August 23, 2018
I tried. I really wanted to enjoy this book. The story is told in that hoovering distant voice and rarely comes down into scene so its hard drop into the story. The title is Olive Kitteridge but the first chapter or section is about her husband. I try and read a Pulitzer prize winner every now and again hoping to find one of hidden gems like The Dog Soldier, or Lonesome Dove. Olive Kitteridge,f I just don't see the draw to this one.

Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,198 followers
July 14, 2019
Just loved these stories... Olive, what a character.. and Henry, who wouldn’t love him!
Looking forward to Olive, Again!!
This was my third Elizabeth Strout book.. I also loved both My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible
Profile Image for Debbie.
454 reviews2,891 followers
September 1, 2019
Oh yes, you bet I grabbed my pogo stick!

WOW WOW WOW! Damn straight I grabbed my pogo stick! I couldn’t sit still—I needed to hop. I couldn’t help it; this book is a masterpiece! It made my heart sing, my soul smile, my thoughts race. Every single sentence, beauteous. Emotion spilling out between the lines. This Olive, she gets under your skin bigtime. And the writer? I bow to this literary genius!

I could just sit here and gush all day long, but gush gets pretty boring. I loved the book; you get it. So what makes this book, this author, so incredible?

Every one of the characters is just a regular Joe who lives in a small, quiet town in Maine. Strout lets them stay regular (no big heroes or weirdos, really) but at the same time she makes them interesting and intense. Usually if you put me in a small, quiet town with upstanding, “regular” people, it’s yawn city. And while I’m yawning I fantasize buying a pack of Camels and heading to a café in Greenwich Village where everyone is edgy and witty. Here, I had no plans to go anywhere but into the next story.

Strout is an expert head examiner. While I’m in there poking around in the heads with her, I end up feeling empathy for Olive and the rest of the characters. Olive is tough to be around at first. She is wound tight. Terse. And she doesn’t miss a trick. She’s cocky in public, yet she is insecure in private. What Strout has done is made me actually LIKE Olive, which is no small feat, given that she seems like a massive bitch. After a while, I saw she could even be funny.

It’s hard to describe how magically this works. It’s like you go into a different dimension, where every little thing you observe gets twisted into a feeling. Reading her stories seduced me to the point of addiction. Almost like I was being hypnotized. Everything seemed frivolous but reading, absorbing these stories. I felt like Strout was bestowing a gift, a view of the world that I don’t get to see in real life.

Strout takes the little things we do, things either we don’t register we’re doing or things we want to hide under the rug, and enlarges them so they’re in our face, refusing to be ignored. She makes the most mundane event or conversation seem completely fascinating. People in these stories are full of regrets, longing, and sadness, mostly. There are all sorts of uncomfortable predicaments. Characters are full of shoulda woulda couldas. There are people who put their feet in their mouths and then try to take them out. People who wish they hadn’t done this or said that—or who wish they HAD done this or said that. People who are caught off guard and anxious, spilling out revealing or toxic sentences that they would never say aloud if they weren’t so stressed, if they were their normal, calmer, and collected selves, with censors in place. Ah, and the fallout from these outbursts. Public discomfort, shame.

Two things that briefly threw me for a loop, but ended up being pluses: First, these are short stories; this is not a novel. There are thirteen stories, and they’re interlinked, almost all relating to Olive. Second, in the first few stories, Olive is not the star. At first I wanted more of her, and sooner. But I quickly realized that I sort of liked that she was being kept hidden for a while. It was cool to get these little glimpses of her from different angles before she made her grand appearance. And it added some suspense—just who is this person named Olive Kitteridge? I can’t wait to see her in full glory!

I loved all the stories—not one was mediocre—but I had three favorites: “A Little Burst,” about Olive at her son’s wedding; “A Different Road,” about Olive and her husband at a crime scene; and “Security,” about Olive visiting her son and his family in New York City. All super intense, all just amazing, all knocked my socks off.

And my favorite line, which was uttered by a teenage girl sitting on her boyfriend’s lap while waiting for a table at a restaurant:

“Stop smelling me,” she said to him.

Strout inspires me to write, to find my own Olive Moments and fly with them. Little moments that at first pass by unnoticed or uncelebrated or unexamined, and that make me dig deep inside as I try assiduously to bring them to light. But it goes without saying, my Olive moments won’t be beauteous like Strout’s, but I thank her deeply for the inspiration. She “gets me going,” and that is a truly awesome feeling.

All I can say is, read this--now! Strout’s latest book, Olive, Again, will be released in October 2019 and you have to read Olive Kitteridge first (you don’t have to, but it’s nice to know the characters and the lay of the land beforehand). Right now I’m devouring an advance copy of Olive, Again, and it’s phenomenal, too. I feel so lucky to be hanging around in Olive’s town again. Olive Kitteridge has made it to my all-time favorites list, and I’m guessing the next installment will, too. This Strout lady, oh she is amazing.

P.S. There’s an excellent 2014 miniseries called Olive Kitteridge, starring Frances McDormand, which I saw when it was released. While I was reading this book, Olive WAS McDormand in my mind; it’s such a perfect match of actress and book character. I absolutely must watch the series again—like maybe tonight!
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,796 reviews2,389 followers
February 29, 2016
Olive Kitteridge is opinionated, domineering, judgemental, interfering and needy. Her husband Henry is gentle, timid and kind. Their life in a small town in Maine is complex, sad, and seemingly incomplete. Olive spends most of her time bitter and sad. Olive is the woman whose cold, offensive manner is an embarassment, Henry is the man whose expression always seems to be carrying an apology about his wife’s behavior. Their son spends his life hoping for an apology from at least one of his parents.

The various personalities in the thirteen chapters of this book fade in comparison to Olive Kitteridge. Olive’s life has not turned out the way she had hoped, and it would seem that this is the one thing that almost everyone from Crosby, Maine has in common. While the level of despair varies from chapter to chapter, person to person, with Olive present, it’s never really completely out of the picture. The characters are somehow disarmingly charming as various adversities befall them, their misfortunes reach out and grab hold and pull another Crosby-dweller into the story for a peek into their life.

Through Strout’s beautifully written intermingled stories she explores the characters of Crosby, Maine, exposing their emotions with depth and sharing every moment of sadness, loneliness, anger and disappointment as if they were their shadow.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
May 11, 2020
Every year I grow giddy with anticipation for the Pulitzer announcement. Usually the awards are announced on the third Monday in April at the luxurious Columbia University library. This year the award ceremony was pushed off until May 4 and streamed online. Although I was not overly thrilled with this year’s batch of winners, I am sure that I will find some hidden gems among the honorees. The fact that I am not overly wowed by the new winners has given me impetus to focus on my annual Pulitzer challenge. Each year I try to read twenty winners across all platforms and have a stellar lineup put together for the rest of the year. So far, I had completed one winner for history and finally got to my first fiction winner of the year as part of a buddy read in two different groups. On Pulitzer Award day, I finished Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, a book of interlocking vignettes starting an unforgettable title character who I will savor for awhile.

Olive and Henry Kitteridge are a retired couple who are looking forward to living out their older age in a renovated home that they worked on themselves. They call Crosby, Maine home, and in this small quirky town, there is quite the cast of characters, although none is as outspoken, ahem opinionated, as Olive. Olive used to teach math at the local middle school, dispensing advice to generations of students of Crosby, and Henry worked for years as the town pharmacist. Time has started to pass them by: a chain pharmacy replaced the locally owner store rendering Henry’s job obsolete, and Olive taught long enough to retire from her job as an algebra teacher. Although no longer at the center of the workings of the town, Olive still makes her presence felt by all who know her on a daily basis, so much so that Strout has presented her story as a series of vignettes, not all of which focus directly on Olive. Strout has noted that if she wrote the story as one linear tale, then Olive might have appeared as too overwhelming to the peripheral characters who make Crosby the quirky small town that it is.

While Strout does her best to focus on other characters, Olive is the central point that holds the novel together. We find out that Olive and Henry have one son Christopher who is a podiatrist. Olive constructed Chris a beautiful home in Crosby not far from her so that he could care for his parents in his old age. Olive also noted to Henry years earlier that most people marry people who remind them of their parents. This was in regards to one of Henry’s former young employees at the pharmacy, but the same could be said of Chris. In a Little Burst, we find out that Olive detests Dr Sue, Chris’ first wife. A bossy lady who just as easily abhors Olive, the two women make for a battle of wills. The marriage does not last but not before Dr Sue sells the house and whisks Chris away from Crosby, breaking Olive’s heart. Sadly, this marriage is not meant to be, but Chris’ second wife Ann is little better. While not as loud as Dr Sue, Ann is still opinionated, so much so that Olive can not stand her either. Choosing two loud women who Olive can not stand, Chris has essentially married his mother. It is little wonder that people in Crosby view Olive as opinionated and loud, and people in the town either love her or detest her. Although Chris’ two wives are examples of those who want to be as far from Olive as possibly, there are those who love her as well.

Olive made her influence felt on the younger set in town because it is apparent that most of her peer group would rather avoid her. There is Kevin who she tries to talk out of suicide, Pam Howe, who she saves, and Julie, who Olive had a bigger influence on then she could have imagined. The story of Julie and Winnie and their unstable home life stands out for me, only because their mother is so loud and strange that she makes Olive look, for lack of a better word, normal. It is quirky people like these who give Crosby its charm. We know that Bonnie does not like cinnamon donuts but her husband purchases one for her each week to hide an affair. In a small town, affairs and suicide attempts seem to be prevalent, making the reader wonder why as Strout uses detailed prose to describe Crosby as a seaside community full of luscious spring and fall blooms. With foliage like this, it is easy to fall in love with Crosby, yet, perhaps, the local residents grow tired of isolation, become quirky, and choose to step outside of the box rather than leave town. Those that do leave are viewed as the fortunate ones, and Olive, of course, still knows everything about everyone’s life.

Strout’s description of Olive Kitteridge as a loud, opinionated woman in a quirky town make her story to be unforgettable. Dual buddy reads gave me the opportunity to finally read her story, and it was a memorable one. I believe this depiction of Olive merited the Pulitzer because she is an older woman who fills a room and does not slow down just because she is getting to a stage in life where most people are content to scale back on their endeavors. In retirement, Olive remains the outspoken woman who she has always been, dispensing advice to people whether they want it or not. Love her or detest her, Olive is a heck of character, and in essence, there is a little of Olive in all of us.

5 star read
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,278 followers
April 29, 2015
“She didn’t like to be alone. Even more, she didn’t like being with people.”

Olive Kitterigde is much more than a retired teacher, intransigent mother, exasperating wife or whimsical neighbor. She is the common thread that interweaves the prosaic lives, everyday tragedies and asphyxiating Zeitgeist of the townspeople of Crosby, a small town located in Maine, a place where the lives of others collide with the adjacent frontiers of oneself.
Olive Kitteridge is the result of a finely threaded gossamer of stories told by a cacophony of voices that bring Ollie, as her benevolent husband Henry calls her, to life through polyhedral perspectives of her complex personality, the interactions she has with other characters and the expectations they project on her. And so Olive never achieves a stationary condition, she is incessantly eroded by a patchwork of inner and outer circumstances, direct and tangent relationships and the process of ageing that gradually transforms an archetypal anti-heroine into a conflicted woman, sometimes cruel, sometimes obstinate, but above all, flawed and very humane.

“All these lives," she said. "All the stories we never know.”
A parade of small miseries, touching greatness and inevitable bewilderment that is ever present in the majority of human actions marches past Olive’s eyes while she weeds her petunias, shaping her self-consciousness and dislocating the core of her existence. Young people seeking death, rebellious teenagers, spiteful offspring, widows who ponder about the meaning of life, elderly couples rejuvenated by the possibility of a new love, marriages that last because of inertia, painful solitudes, unjustified acts of violence, a conglomerate of singular individuals that become iconic paradigms of life in an American town in modern times and the whirlpool of secrets underneath.

With highly polished and lucid language, not exempt of irony or biting humor, and making use of the third-person narrator, which provides the precise distance to observe the characters from the vantage point straddling clinical objectivity and psychological empathy, Elizabeth Strout masters the technique of creating a homogeneous atmosphere that brings together an apparently disperse plot delivered by way of unconnected stories. And Olive, that familiar character that equally infuriates and charms the reader, personifies the grandiosity and desolation of daily existence and winks mischievously to the histrionic self that is hidden in each of us.

Life is a strange, convoluted business and staying afloat, regardless of the inexorable passage of time that will escort all of us to the same ominous culmination, is a small act of bravery. Strout’s tapestry of intimate details and acute observations reverberates with that truth and at the end of the journey, Olive Kitteridge turns out to be a universal mirror that absorbs the dull grey of existence and exudes the vivid promise of second chances.

“Oh, insane, ludicrous, unknowable world! Look how she wanted to live, look how she wanted to hold on.”
Profile Image for Christine.
596 reviews1,181 followers
June 28, 2020
4.5 stars (rounded to 5 stars)

I wasn’t going to read this one, but after looking at the sea of 5-star reviews from my Goodreads friends I succumbed to peer pressure. Plus, I was surprised to see that it is an actual Pulitzer Prize winner. I’m not sure I had ever read a Pulitzer Prize winner before, so with that too in mind, how could I resist? I am so late to this party, it’s shameful, but better late than never, right? Right.

I skipped over the blurb and dove right in as I often do. The first few chapters confused me. Where was Olive? And the number of characters were really ratcheting up—how was I to recall all these names? I finally went to its Goodreads page to make sure I really saw all those 5-star reviews, and it caught my eye that a lot of people shelved this book as “short stories.” What?? I really wouldn’t have read it if I had known that. I really like to dig into the characters’ personalities, and that takes a novel in most authors’ hands.

Once I resigned myself to a book of short stories rather than a novel, and Olive started appearing more and more, my interest kindled. And these short stories are amazingly good. The author really draws some fine personality profiles in a relatively few pages and each story is very satisfying for the most part, though a few are open-ended. Every one of the 13 stories has some sort of connection with Olive, which delighted me and eventually gave the book a “novelly” feel in my mind. One other early hurdle was that Olive can really be unpleasant and hard to be around in the eyes of others. But Ms. Strout also makes it clear that underneath all that bluster, Olive is very insecure and just doesn’t know how to appreciate the good things in her life. I grew to deeply care for Olive.

I believe the overall theme of the book is that one must not overlook and be grateful for the good things in life. I really buy into this as I know in my own life if I stop and think of all the good things that have happened each and every day, I can really pile them high. Doing so gives me much more strength to endure the bad things. The book sends this powerful message that poor Olive does not really grasp until the end. I am so eager to read the sequel, Olive Again, which is already coming up fast for me in the Libby app library queue. Visiting Olive again will be a real pleasure.

I recommend Olive Kitteridge to everyone who has not yet read it. It is well written and gives off a real sense of place. It has captivating characters and a great message. Last, but not least, it was a joy to watch Olive still growing as she navigates her 70s.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,272 followers
January 28, 2012
If I could use one word to describe this book, it would probably be “boring.” “Awkward” is a close runner-up. I think Elizabeth Strout must be the type of person who is less of the entertainment school of writing and more of the vitamins school of writing. But, I am left wondering what nutritional value I got out of this. Mostly, it just seemed like a bunch of people sitting around being petty, judging other people’s Issues, and thinking about cheating on each other. Like, whoa, deep.

The structure of the book is a bunch of different short stories that all somehow reference this one bitchy lady, Olive Kitteridge. It’s not a bad structure if there was something you wanted to know about the person, but in itself the structure is more of a gimmick than anything. Alone, it is neither good nor bad, but it’s easy to get trapped in a gimmick and refuse to edit because you’re married to it. I feel like that’s what happened here. A few of the better stories only incidentally referenced Olive Kitteridge, and I think they could have made better (by which I mean more entertaining and containing a plot) overall stories than Olive’s. Maybe I am just not interested in her. She is the mean math teacher, controlling mother, self-absorbed wife, busybody neighbor. None of the ways this played out were particularly appalling, but they were not endearing either. She started out meh and stayed meh throughout. I guess there is some reference in her character to the frigidness of New England towns, and I feel equally indifferent about that.

But, okay, I did like this recurrent theme about not being afraid of our own hunger. The book probably explores desire, and the stories are probably all studies about human desire and how it expresses itself in different ways. I don’t know, maybe all books are about that in some ways, and I'd rather read Wuthering Heights if I'm going for desire. This had alcoholism, anorexia, suicide, LOADS of adultery (contemplation), runaways, food allergies, robbery, murder (contemplation), and probably other topics like that. And then it ends (I guess spoiler alert, but it’s not really like there is a plot to this book, so I don’t think it really spoils anything) with a sort of huu-uuh in a story about some people in their seventies thinking about having sex with each other and how they were assholes to their kids.

So, I don’t know. I’m going to give this two stars because it’s so boring. Even the robbery is boring. I didn't hate it as much as it sounds like I did, but it would be a lie if I said I enjoyed it. There are all of these bloated similes, too, which are just painful. I can’t think of an example now, but something like, “She gazed into her cup of coffee and then noticed on the counter crumbs of a muffin LIKE GRAINS OF THE SANDS OF TIME-IME-IME-IME.” What. Ever. I’m only exaggerating a little. Everything was like the ocean waves ebbing and flowing, etc.

I listened to this on audio, and it was also meh. Now that I’m looking at the cover, it seems oddly apt. When I first looked at it, I was like, what the fuck is that? And it seemed kind of interesting and complex. Then I realized it was just a boring leaf. Then I gazed at my coffee and noticed on the table the leaves of the book pages like the leaves of the book of time-ime-ime-ime. This business about the trappings of time was probably not literally in the book BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN.

When she would come back to the hunger thing, though, I liked that. It seems like a good point – not to be afraid of our own hunger. I don’t really know what it means, and I question whether Strout does either, but it sounds good.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books816 followers
August 17, 2018
4 and 1/2 stars

We all have known an Olive -- or at least, we think we know her. Strout shows us the parts we don't know, what's behind the prickliness and the 'attitude.' Through fiction, we now have a better understanding of such a person.

It's a rare writer who can embody a character so well. And the minor characters too -- they are all living, breathing people. More than one of these 'minor' characters are so well-drawn and intriguing that I wouldn't have minded knowing more about them.

Not all the stories are about Olive, though she 'appears' in all of them, if only peripherally. In three of the stories (and they might be my favorites, though it's hard to pick a favorite) other women (one 'older,' the others young) are the main characters, and Olive is just a thought in their heads. In two of the heads, she is a scary presence, but the older sister of the one who is afraid of her remembers something Olive told her when she was Olive's student and it gives her the courage to change her life.

In the first story (about Olive's husband) I marked a simile that I liked: ... she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away. After finishing the last story, I reread the phrase. I found it an interesting contrast with the last story, which is full of sunlit imagery.

4 and 1/2 stars, because I felt the ending of one otherwise strong story was too gimmicky.
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