Title: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publication Date: 9/30/07
How I Found It: Required reading for my Gender in Contemporary Literature course
Date Completed: 3/24/15
Summary: A collection of short stories set in small-town Crosby, Maine all weave in the character of Olive Kitteridge and give the reader a glimpse into her life and emotional journey.
What I Thought: Today, as I was reading another novel from the 100 Best Novels list, I contemplated what modern novels would make the cut on such a list 100 years from now. Fortuitously, I now sit trying to think what to say about Olive Kitteridge. One of my first thoughts: I could see this book on a best novels list decades from now.
Two years into the challenge and knowing what I know now about the types of books chosen for such a list, I think Olive Kitteridge would fit right in. It's complex and philosophical in the most ordinary ways. The characters are rich, yet plain. The depth of the novel far surpasses any surface level entertainment value.
Not to say the book isn't entertaining. It is, in its own way; much more than entertaining, though, it speaks to human nature and needs in a quiet, wise voice.
I really liked the approach of the novel. I do not think I have ever read anything quite like it. While the character of Olive Kitteridge is the main character (protagonist may be too strong a word), each story does not center around her or her family. In fact, less than half of the vignettes feature Olive as the central character. Instead, she pops in and out, sometimes only for a sentence or two. I loved the way this technique wove the small town together, showing the impact people have on one another and the secret tragedies everyone deals with behind closed doors.
This is one of those books I appreciate more and more the longer I dwell on it. One could quickly read it on a surface level and not take much away. Yet, digging in deeper for my grad course and spending time thinking about it for the blog really have made me value it more. Despite Olive's gruff nature, harsh personality, and my general disdain for her at times, the more I open myself up and identify with her weaknesses, the more I come to care for her. Not like her necessarily, but care for her.
I think I will come back to this book at some point. However, reading it now, in my late twenties, seems the wrong time of life. The characters in the book are nearly all middle aged or even elderly. Of course, that doesn't mean I cannot appreciate and learn from their stories, but I think I'll have a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for this book once I hit some of those life phases myself.
Quote I Loved: "And she was happy right now, it was true. Jane Houlton, shifting inside her nice black coat, was thinking that, after all, life was a gift - that one of those things about getting older was knowing that so many moments weren't just moments, they were gifts."
Will I Re-Read: I think I'll enjoy this book more in about 20 years, when I can relate to more of it.
A Reduced Review: Complex and poignant in the most ordinary ways, but not meant for the reader who needs to always like the protagonist.