EXCERPT: For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favourite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold. (Taken from the short story ‘Pharmacy’)
ABOUT “OLIVE KITTERIDGE’: 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.
MY THOUGHTS: I love this collection of character studies of Olive herself, her family, friends and acquaintances. If you think about where you live and the people you know, you will recognise many of the traits and personalities of Strout’s characters. It may even help you to understand them a little better. Kitteridge has chronicled the small but important incidents in their lives, incidents that often precipitate a turning point, but remain unrecognised as such.
Olive herself is not always likeable. She can be brusque and harsh in her judgements, yet she can also be kind, generous and understanding. She is a ‘smother mother,’ which she vehemently denies, and one of my favourite scenes occurs after her son’s wedding when she overhears her new daughter-in-law criticising the dress she was so proud of. She exacts her own revenge on her hapless and to be short-lived daughter-in-law.
The stories themselves are short and deceptively quiet. There are no great revelations, very few dramas. This is about people coping with their lot, their day to day lives, their decisions or lack of them. Strout takes a dissecting knife to our familiar world and places slivers of it under the microscope. We won’t always like what we see, but she has produced a startlingly honest portrait of the people of a small town.
THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Strout is a US-American novelist and author. She is widely known for her works in literary fiction and her descriptive characterization. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Olive Kitteridge in 2009.
DISCLOSURE: I listened to the audiobook of Olive Kitteridge, written by Elizabeth Strout, narrated by Kimberly Farr, and published by Random House Audio via Overdrive. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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