This week I’m featuring two books by Elizabeth Strout. I just finished reading the author’s latest book, The Burgess Boys. Two years ago I read her Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge. I still think about Olive from time to time so I went back and re-read some of the chapters/stories. I wrote about it on Quirky Girls Read blog, but decided I want to include Olive Kitteridge here on Joyfully Retired.
Publisher: Random House, 2008
Genre: Short Stories, Literature
Award Won: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2009
My Rating: A
Olive Kitteridge is the main character in a collection of short stories that make up this novel. She’s a complex woman in her sixties. At the beginning I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. Her actions are often abrasive and rude. At one point her son told her, ”You can make people feel terrible.” Ouch!
Learning that she was a former junior high math teacher helped me understand why she handled people the way she did. As I worked my way through the book, I understood Olive and began to respect and admire her. I’m not sure this is the typical reaction. Olive can be very unlikable. But I saw a tremendous amount of empathy for both people she knew and strangers. We meet her family, friends, neighbors, and fellow small-town residents of Crosby, Maine. The stories are rich with them.
Each of the thirteen stories is a different look at characters and events but overall they are linked to one another. The beauty of Elizabeth Strout’s writing is that she quickly pulls the reader into the lives of the characters. She makes the reader care about them and curious about what is going to happen.
The stories feature the wide array and complexities of human nature. I doubt that anyone can read this book and not identify with at least one of the human conditions. I found myself shaking my head as I recognized people and experiences I witnessed.
By the end, Olive passed my supreme test for a character: she became alive and a friend. I’m still wondering how she’s doing. I strongly recommend Olive Kitteridge for readers who love good character studies as well as good literature. There are enough issues raised that it would also make a great book club book.
About the author:
Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977. Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.
She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College. By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen. Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing. Her first book, Amy and Isabelle, was published in 1998, and then followed by Abide With Me and now Olive Kitteridge.