It was my turn this month to choose the selection for my book club, and I thought I’d multitask by choosing something from my review pile. I dove to the bottom of my mountain of review books and found Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge. A review copy of Olive Kitteridge was sent to me when it was first released in 2008, and I’m ashamed to say that it’s taken me until now to get around to reading this 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, but I’m so glad I finally did.
Elizabeth Strout’s writing style is exceptionally elegant and understated. Reading the story and having the tale unfold was like watching someone weave an intricate tapestry. The main character, Olive Kitteridge, is only occasionally written in the first person. Primarily, we catch snapshots of her brief interactions and impact on others, as revealed through the experiences of external characters. It was almost like having glimpses through the window into someone’s life, trying to piece together who this woman really was.
“Mrs. Kitteridge. Holy Shit. She looked exactly the same as she had in the classroom in seventh grade, that forthright, high-cheekboned expression; her hair was still dark. He had liked her; not everyone had. He would have waved her away now, or started the car, but the memory of respect held him back.”
Olive spans years throughout her adult life in the story trying to figure out herself just who she is. Olive is not a particularly compassionate or sensitive woman. She is strong in personality and strong in her opinions. Often feared by the students at the school where she taught math, her impact on others is not always a positive one. Sometimes she makes a difference in someone’s life, but more often than not, she makes mistakes, particularly with her own family. There were times in the story where, as a reader, I wasn’t particularly sure if I cared for her, but I was compelled to find out how she evolved and what happened to her. Olive loves, but she is flawed. Ultimately, she is simply human.
Note: This article was first published as “Book Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout” on Blogcritics.org.