Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; 2008
The book took A LOT out of me. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of short stories about the residents of Crosby, a small town in Maine. Olive Kitteridge is a stormy force in the town: the wife of the kind pharmacist, Henry, and a fearful math teacher at the school. Olive becomes the life and center of the collection, as she filters in and out of other people’s lives, impacting them in ways she doesn’t realize. I’m not sure I would have read this one if not for my personal challenge to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, because everything I heard about this book was that it was uber depressing. True – but I’m so glad I read this.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE short story collections that are tied together by characters crossing in and out of each other’s lives. It reminds me of Forster’s ‘Only connect,’ and how personal relationships and humans help to define one another. Olive is featured predominately in most of the stories, but it’s the stories where she appears only briefly in that background that the reader gets a better understanding of the depth of her character.
It is depressing as hell. Mostly because it’s TOO real. Strout captures life and getting older to a T, which I think probably makes readers (myself included) uncomfortable. There’s a lot of death, a lot of affairs, and a ton of heartbreak. But it’s also about the choices we make, and how we see ourselves v. how we’re seen by other people.
I made the MAJOR mistake of watching the HBO miniseries when I was about 3/4 of the way finished with the book. The miniseries is about 80% more depressing than the book, so I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish. I’m glad I did; the ending isn’t quite what you think, and it ends with hope and appreciation for life. Olive and its characters will stay with me probably forever. Have some fresh doughnuts around when you read this one. Trust me.