Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Publisher: Random House

Copyright date: March 2008

Pages: 288

Genre: Short Stories, Literature

Reason for Reading: I enjoy reading short stories.

Rating: A

Award Won: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2009

Olive Kitteridge is the main character in a collection of short stories that make up this novel. She’s a complex woman in her sixties. At the beginning I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. Her actions are often abrasive and rude. At one point her son told her, ”You can make people feel terrible.” Ouch!

Learning that she was a former junior high math teacher helped me understand why she handled people the way she did. As I worked my way through the book, I understood Olive and began to respect and admire her. I’m not sure this is the typical reaction. Olive can be very unlikable. But I saw a tremendous amount of empathy for both people she knew and strangers. We meet her family, friends, neighbors, and fellow small-town residents of Crosby, Maine. The stories are rich with them.

Each of the thirteen stories is a different look at characters and events but overall they are linked to one another. The beauty of Elizabeth Strout’s writing is that she quickly pulls the reader into the lives of the characters. She makes the reader care about them and curious about what is going to happen.

The stories feature the wide array and complexities of human nature. I doubt that anyone can read this book and not identify with at least one of the human conditions. I found myself shaking my head as I recognized people and experiences I witnessed.

By the end, Olive passed my supreme test for a character: she became alive and a friend. I’m still wondering how she’s doing. I strongly recommend Olive Kitteridge for readers who love good character studies as well as good literature. There are enough issues raised that it would also make a great book club book.

About the author:

Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977. Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.

She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College. By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen. Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing. Her first book, Amy and Isabelle, was published in 1998, and then followed by Abide With Me and now Olive Kitteridge.

About the Pulitzer Prize:

The purpose of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is to honor outstanding work in literature.  The award for distinguished fiction must be by an American author. They prefer the story deals with American life.

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About Margot

I'm also known as Joyfully Retired. I love to talk. I love to talk about books I've read, movies I've seen, places I've traveled to, people (especially my children and grandchildren), and Food. On the Quirky Girls Read blog I'm trying to read all the books that have won the major awards and then, of course, talk about them.
This entry was posted in Award Winners, Fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I’ve heard this book is a little hard to get into – maybe because Olive isn’t likeable at first. I’m anxious to read it since I’ve come to appreciate books written this way.

  2. I’m just not interested in a collection of stories, even if they are sort of connected! Great review, though!

  3. Beth F says:

    I have this in audio but have not yet read it. I think I’d like it.

  4. Barbara says:

    I have this on my list but I put it there initially because it’s set in Maine where I lived for so long and the author is from Portland. I’m not a short story reader but since each of these features the same character, I think it will be more like reading a novel. Now if I can just get past not liking her in the beginning, I’m all set.

  5. I loved your review of this book. I think you nailed Olive spot on!

  6. kaye says:

    I’m making my own challenge for next year–pick from Margot’s recommends! Here is another one you’ve inspired me to read.

  7. JoAnn says:

    Great review, Margot! I just loved Olive Kitteridge – it was one of my favorite books a couple of years ago. I was also fortunate to hear the author speak last winter. She delivered an amazing talk on why fiction matters… such an engaging person! My book club read her novel Amy & Isabelle years ago, and I keep meaning to seek out her other book Abide with Me.

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    I don’t normally like short stories, but this one tempts me.

  9. Pingback: My Favorite Award-Winners From 2011 |

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