I picked up a copy of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout several months ago, read about twenty pages, and put it down. I didn’t like it. It seemed cold and sad. But it won a Pulitzer, for god’s sake, so I put it on the shelf, thinking there must be something worthwhile in it and maybe I’d read it later.
When I picked it up again recently, I was immediately drawn in. Now the pages themselves were warm with images, emotion and detail. Why wasn’t the book cold and sad this time? I don’t know. The season, my mood…something. This contrast in my own reactions may be an indication of why, on the Goodreads website, you’ll find lovers and haters of Olive Kitteridge. Apparently this book is not for everyone. Or maybe it is, but timing could have something to do with whether or not you enjoy it.
Olive Kitteridge is thirteen short stories, all of which take place in the fictional resort town of Crosby, Maine. Olive, a middle-aged woman approaching her elder years, is the focus of some of the stories, and she appears in them all. To those who don’t know her (including the reader, as the book begins), she’s a harsh woman, difficult to please and hard to like.
These thirteen short stories tell the full tale of those who live in this small town, and those who are compelled to leave. They cover broad subjects like weddings, suicide, terrorism, anorexia and love, and they do this in minute, revealing detail, bringing the reader into Crosby social life as though it were all perfectly real. Details like Olive folding her underwear under her clothes when she disrobes to be examined at the doctor’s office, or a polyester dress sticking to a pair of nylons on a dry day, make Olive human.
The other characters are multidimensional as well. At a man’s funeral, his widow asks Olive to take away her “basket of trips,” a basket of travel brochures she shared with her dying husband while they fooled themselves with the hope that he would live. A middle-aged couple, having an affair, decide to stop having sex but continue to meet just to talk to each other.
Even as Olive is not the main character of every story in the book, each story develops Olive’s character. By the end we love her for who she is. She has never been anyone else, but we have come to understand her harsh exterior. And the ending is well worth getting to.
I don’t want to reveal too many details of this book, yet I want to tell you to read it–when you’re in the mood, and when the time is right.
Petrea Burchard is a local Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent, and now, author. She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.comand LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, andWebster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.