Wednesday, December 2, 2009

REVIEW: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. Published 2008 by Random House. Short stories. Literary fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is a novel in short stories centering on the eponymous Olive, an elderly married woman living in the small town of Crosby, Maine- a retired teacher, wife of the town pharmacist and mother to a troubled son. The stories themselves don't all focus on Olive, although she appears in all of them in one way or another; sometimes, she's only present for a moment but in a book where her character is studied and revealed by the whole, even a moment can be illuminating.

I loved Olive Kitteridge. I didn't always love the woman but author Elizabeth Strout's ability to make this complicated, difficult and eccentric woman human and whole is the reason to read this luminous book. I read it over five days last summer when I was sick and staying home a lot (along with a couple of other books) and I think having that compressed time with it helped me savor the details and nuances of Strout's careful portrayal of this woman and her community. There were moments of ugliness- when Olive vandalizes her daughter-in-law's closet, for example, or when she and Henry are attacked- and moments of beauty, when the reader gets inside her private world and the feelings she never shares with anyone. My favorite story was the last one, a moving paean to love lost and found. My eyes were more than a little moist by the end of this lovely book.

All the stories share Strout's careful attention to detail and craft. The writing is literary and accomplished and Strout creates a vibrant community full of secrets and dysfunction as well as love and redemption- in other words, a place both real and believable. I particularly admire the way Strout contrasts the public tranquility of the Kitteridges' lifelong marriage with the chaos of this woman's private inner world. Olive Kitteridge is one of those books I hope everyone reads at some point; it's that special. It will certainly be among my top picks for the year. I hope you get a chance to read it!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.