Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

Rating: 4 Stars
Pages: 270 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Publication Date: 2008
Source: Borrowed from Local Public Library

Synopsis (GoodReads):

In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

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 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 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 the story of a woman who is in the last moments of her life.  She is not dying but she is old.  Her only child is grown and has moved away from the small town in which she raised him.  This is a novel about Olive reflecting on her life and how she ends up in the situations that she encounters through the story.

      Intertwined with Olive's story is the story of other residents of her small Maine town.  Some of them have a direct connection with Olive's, while with others the connection is not as strong.  There are stories about about friends, students, and people that she connects with going about her everyday life.

  Olive Kitteridge is very similar to The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, in tone.  It's a character study more than action driven.

     The characters (other than Olive) are a little bit harder to describe.  In some cases, like with Harry Kitteridge, Olive's husband, readers are able to form a strong connection with his character.  They get to know his personality and can see that he is a good decent man that cares about his customers and his family.

     Other characters stories are brief Stout made sure that reader understood the character ultimate purpose, feelings and actions. Stout shows her talent as a writer by being able to tale each characters story and history without making it one large information dump.  There were times when I wondered what connection certain characters had with Olive and then there would be a mention of her.  Stout showed how one person can affect the course of so many lives by actions and words.

    The main character, Olive Kitteridge is not a happy person. She had a hard difficult childhood and it reflected in how she treated the people around her.  Which in turn reflected how they thought and interacted with her.  There were times when I thought that she had to be the most rudest, nastiness, most bitter person around.  Her dog was the only "person" that she displayed a constant display for consideration for, with everyone else she was a constant "hot and cold".   Her attitude tainted the most important relationships in her life, that between her and her son, and her and her husband, Henry.

     Now, while Olive was mean.  She was honest, which I found refreshing even while finding it shocking.

     One of her 7th grade students remembered her saying:
Don't be scared of your hunger.  If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else.
     That's not bad or shocking, it's actually great advice to give a child.  I won't ruin the story for you by telling you what the student did with that advice.

    But of her husband she thought:
But Henry was pretty irritating himself, with his steadfast way of remaining naive, as though life were just what a Sears catalogue told you it was: everyone standing around and smiling.
     In the end, I liked Olive.  I realized that at the time she thought she was doing her best and she really did not know any other way to behave.  That her rudeness was a shield to hide her true feelings from the world.  That ultimately she was scared of being hurt and in the end I think that she finally realized that two.

     I liked Stout writing style, it was very fluid and engaging.  She was able to masterfully distinguish all her characters and make them all complex.  There voices were unique and never did I get confused about which characters story is was reading.

     The overall tone was solemn, but Stout was able interject humor in just the right places to lighten the mood up when need.  The humor didn't seem forced but flowed naturally with the story.

     One of my favorite exchanges was between elderly father and his son about the whether the son had tried pot and the  definition of the term "fuck buddies". It was funny and charming to see a father trying to bridge the generational gap with his son and make sure that he was "cool".

Overall Recommendation:

I found Olive Kitteridge to be a very pleasant story about a woman reflecting on her life mixed in with other stories about people dealing with various situations. It was a smooth read, and while I won't say that it was a favorite novel or that I would give it rave reviews.  I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone or read another one of Elizabeth Stout's novels again.  I think this is the prefect book for anyone that enjoyed The Remains of The Day.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely going to place this on my list of books to read.