Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

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A friend lent me Olive Kitteridge in anticipation of our (at the time) upcoming trip to Maine, since Elizabeth Strout is a Mainer and this collection of short stories gives the reader a taste of the landscape and culture in this unique state. And while I’m not typically very good with short stories, Olive Kitteridge was a really enjoyable read. Maybe because it’s a story cycle, with recurring characters (and centering on the titular Olive Kitteridge) and locations, I didn’t have the kind of difficulty getting into this book that I usually have with short story collections.

Olive, the character, is really interesting. Surly and unexpectedly compassionate, she hurtles her way through life without understanding how others often react to her brusque nature. In fact, her social ineptitude is quite endearing, and this reader couldn’t help but feel deeply sad for her when her relationships with those she cared most about struggled under the weight of miscommunications and misunderstandings.

There’s a beauty to Strout’s characters that makes it easy to understand how this book could win the Pulitzer Prize (2009 in the category of Fiction). They stumble through life without being able to right all of the repercussions for their actions, and without being able to connect to those they would most dearly like to connect to. And most of all, they are ever so human.

GOOD FOR:  People who like a good cranky protagonist, anyone who’s interested in the ways communities grow and change over time, and readers who enjoy some skillful character development.

BAD FOR:  Fans of the linear story line, people who want all the gaps filled in, and those looking for a Disney-esque happy ending.

GOOD WITH: Blackbird House, Tall-Pine Polka, and In the Country of the Pointed Firs.

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