Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

July 19, 2013 Whitney Review 0 Comments

Book Review: Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Published by Random House on September 30, 2008
Genres: General Fiction
Source: Borrowed

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Olive Kitteridge is beautifully written but if possible, almost too much so.  A strange critic, but because of this I had to reread portions to make sure I understood what was going on and did not develop a connection to any of the characters, nor did I care when one exited and another entered.

An example of this confusion is in the first story, The Pharmacy.  Olive’s husband Henry owns an old time pharmacy in the days before Walgreens.  Henry Kitteridge hires an assistant named Denise whose husband is also named Henry.  The three get along splendidly (Olive being indifferent).  I should have realized that everything was too perfect.  In Gone with the Wind, Melanie tells Ashley that she will love him as long as she lives, just as she does now, that is a death sentence as 800 pages (or 2 1/2 hours later) she dies.  If it could happen to the Wilkes’ it could happen to anyone.  When this happened to Denise’s husband, I had to read the section twice to figure who died.  That’s just sad, and I’m not just talking about fictional deaths.

As for Olive Kitteridge, first impressions are everything and my first impression was that she is a major bitch.  There were fleeting moments of kindness but I always felt it was for her own benefit and did nothing to change my opinion.  Olive was supposed to grow as a character but I just didn’t see it.  Olive Kitteridge was no Miss Maddie nor was Crosby, Maine Cranford which I feel the novel was trying to accomplish.

Overall, I thought that while beautiful Elizabeth Strout was a little too wordy and felt that there was very little storyline with the vignettes never weaved together.


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