Friday, June 05, 2009

Book 59: Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I recently heard about this novel when it was mentioned as a Pulitzer Prize Winner on Bibliolatry. I waited a while to order it because her review mentioned that the book was set up as a series of short stories, and generally, I'm not a big fan of short stories. However, since the short stories all revolved around the same character, Olive Kitteridge, in one way or another, I figured it would be a little different. The usual reason I don't like short stories is because I feel like by the time I start really getting into the characters and the story, it's already over - a collection of stories about the same person would basically prevent that from happening. Also, since they are told from different perspectives, and all the characters have different relationships, I liked seeing how that would affect my views. I always like seeing how characters fit together, even ones that one wouldn't necessarily expect to know each other (which is one thing I like about Louise Erdrich's novels - they are all about different people but since they take place in the same community, you keep running into certain characters again and again).

While the book, of course, showed how one person's life might affect a community or be affected by a community, I also enjoyed getting to know some of the other characters, and wish there had been more follow up to their stories (such as whether or not that one guy left his wife or not; it doesn't come up later, so I'm not sure if it didn't happen or no one cared enough to gossip about it, though it was probably the former). A few of the stories are from Olive's perspective or others close to her, while she barely appears in others. For example, in one of them, she is simply remembered as the math teacher that once told her students something inspiring they were too young to understand. Of course, years later, her student remembers this, and it helps her come to an important decision.

Olive definitely isn't an easy person to get along with and has very strong views and opinions. Her relationship with her son is difficult, and while she isn't always likeable, at least Strout portrays her in a way where it is easy to understand what makes Olive tick.

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