I suppose I’m a bit late to the table talking about a book published in 2008, that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, but I have to admit I don’t always pay attention to the Pulitzer the way I do the Governor General’s Award or The Giller Prize. But no matter when it was published, I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to tell everyone they know about it.
I heard of the book when I was watching the 2015 Golden Globes, because Frances McDormand was nominated for her role as Olive and they showed a clip. I liked what I saw and added the book to my list. I finally bought it just before Christmas and pulled it off the pile in January because it looked like a quick read.
This is not a book to be read quickly. Not because it’s dense and overwritten, but because it’s captivating and oh so beautiful. I don’t even know what to say. I rarely cry at books, as much as they may move me emotionally, but tears rolled down my cheeks several times.
Olive Kitteridge is a collection of 13 stories that take place in or around Elizabeth Strout’s fictional town of Crosby, Maine. Olive appears in every story, sometimes it is her story, sometimes she is a key character and sometimes she just appears briefly.
Here is what it says on the back of the book:
“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.”
What makes this book so beautiful is Strout’s writing. In another book I deeply enjoyed, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Richard, the character of the dying writer, says to his friend that he never achieved what he wanted to achieve with his writing. He says “I wanted to write about everything, the life we’re having and the lives we might have had.” Elizabeth Strout knows how to do this.
She cracks life open page after page. In my opinion there is not one misstep, not one detail of description that doesn’t add to the atmosphere, not one word of dialogue that isn’t authentic. I wanted to highlight some of the beautiful writing, but as I flipped through the stories I realized I would need to transcribe the whole book. To say look at this or look at that would be like pulling a thread from a beautiful tapestry and expecting it to illuminate the beauty of the whole.
It’s been a long, long time since I fell in love with a book the way I fell in love with this one. I recently bought Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel, My Name is Lucy Barton. I want to read it so much I can’t even pick it up yet.