Olive Kitteridge

Review  okbyes Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Alfred A Knopf 2008, 270 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:     This won the Pulitzer so I first heard about it at Bybee’s blog.   She’s collecting them, I think.    Not that I care one twit about the Pulitzer Prize winners, or anything.    No, wait – that sounds too harsh.   How about:    Not that I follow book awards much, because I don’t.    I like to let my whims decide what books I read.    This book is set in Maine.    I love Maine.   I guess that’s it.    Do I really need a reason?

WHAT’s IT ABOUT:    First off, the cover/back-of-book-blurb* does not tell you in so many words that this is a collection of short stories.     It says it’s a novel.   Well, it ain’t my idea of a novel.   But that doesn’t mean I was at all disappointed.     All I can say is that we are introduced to a small town in Maine and a few of its inhabitants and visitors.    All of these people are either married to Olive Kitteridge or had her for a math teacher in 7th grade or bumped into her in the street.   Many of them love her, dislike her, wonder about her and/or give her no thoughts whatsoever.     But the reader will come to appreciate this rough and tough yet tender lady.    I know I did.

Time** jumps back and forth, too.     Each story is but a capsule of a moment or an evening or months, even years.   The first story was one of my favorites;   it was about Henry, Olive’s husband and it is one that explores a memory of a relationship spanning decades, even if for the occasional birthday card.    Complex, layered and private.     And so sad!

Other favorite stories are the piano player at the restaurant along the river – Olive barely walks into a scene;  in another, we are brought into a relationship ‘overlap’ of a shared rescue attempt between the hardware store guy, a widow (his mistress), and Olive; and the last haunting story that analyzes the differences between what we want out of life and how much we grasp at life however it comes to us.

Olive questions how we can complain when life doesn’t treat us ‘fair’ or ‘right’;    we do what we can.   In the first story, the reader is not introduced to Olive in a favorable light – she seems querulous:  grouchy, hard to please.   Yet the love her husband has for her is strong if not understandable, yet.   We certainly warm up to her and how she thinks and how she reacts to people, place and things by the last page.    We are only treated to a few glimpses of her teaching style but I think I would have loved to have her as a teacher;   the memorable ones were those that pushed and shoved.   Olive, to me, is actually a wonderful reminder to me to be a little less critical of myself and others.     I am going to remember this Olive character for a long time.

The author’s style reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri – the quiet, sharp insights to the human condition.


Pie Notes
from page 141:    “… not wanting to be reminded of what could happen to a family that had seemed as pretty and fresh as blueberry pie.”

and DO watch out for the doughnuts!! and sunglasses?   missed this…   see Dawn’s review at She is Too Fond of Books.

Other reviews:
Caribou’s Mom
KGMom Mumblings
My Cozy Book Nook
She Who Is Wonderfully TOO FOND of Books


* I can’t verify that the back of the book doesn’t say short stories but I do recall trying to figure out if these were short stories before I opened it to start reading.    I admit I could be totally incorrect about this.

** OK, maybe I just got confused and wasn’t paying attention.    Good thing this isn’t for a grade.    All the other reviews I’m reading  (I like to NOT read reviews until I’m done writing my own) say the stories are in chronological order.    And, I guess, I do have to agree that the last few stories are later in time.    I give up now.

24 thoughts on “Olive Kitteridge

  1. I don’t pay attention to award winners either. 🙂 You comparing this to Lahiri, though, has me interested! Thanks Care. 😀

    Eva, I have no doubts that you would find much to appreciate in this collection/novel – whatever it is.

  2. Same here — I don’t deliberately go out of my way to read award-winning books. I’m more of a whimsical reader. Maine as a setting is a great excuse. I’ll have to look for this one!

    Whimsical reader! yes. I know that I can blame my interest in this book due to the setting. Pretty sure.

  3. I’ve been wondering about this book since someone suggested it for our new book club. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!


    I think this would be an excellent book for a club discussion! So much in it, so wonderful characters to like/dislike and wonder about.

  4. The fact that Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer was a plus for me–I had already gotten and/or read the Pulitzers in biography & history, and found them very good. So I thought Olive Kitteridge would be worth a read. I loved it. The slow build of love her/hate her/ wonder about her was a real treat. Sort of like getting to know someone you just aren’t sure about. By the end, I was deeply touched by the human condition that Olive evidences.

    By the way, thanks for stopping by. I like your rating system. I have only given “terrific reads” awards to books I love love love. I would say Life of Pi fit into that category.

    I will be back and spend some time prowling your annual lists. I keep track to, but not so much by year. I have tried to create a list of the books I have read–not nearly as many on the list as I have actually read.

    1. Thanks KGMom! Yes, deeply touched is a good choice of words. I had problems with Life of Pi but I don’t doubt anyone who loves it. I need to blogroll you; I’ll be back to read more.

  5. That’s five pieces of pie, not one, right? I’ve been interested in reading this since it won the Pulitzer Prize and, after your review, I want to know more about Olive.

  6. It’s on my face to face book clubs agenda for the fall but I’ve had it in my tbr pile for some months and may just have to read ahead. I think the short story type aspect sounds really interesting.

  7. 5 pieces of pie…woo-hoo! I was surprised at the format, too. And I could be wrong, too, but I swear there were a few out of order stories.

    ah, you’ve got my back. cool.

  8. I’m somehow put off by the title of this book, no idea why. I didn’t know it was a collection of short stories. Thanks for pointing that out. 5 stars huh? Not bad at all.

  9. I’ve wanted to read this forever! But I was looking for a book written by Olive Kitteridge – I couldn’t find it (of course.) And only realized it was the title when I saw Jill’s review. Then I forgot about it (of course.) Now I read your review and again I feel like I must read it! *writing note to self on sticky tab right now*

    However with all that said, I highly doubt this book will be as entertaining as your review! How on earth do you make your writing seem feel so cozy and chatty?! I love it 🙂

    1. OH Joanne! Thank you – what a sweet thing to say. I just reread my post and I have no idea – how I make my writing ‘seem so cozy and chatty?’ really? I do? huh.

  10. Nymeth – I’m sure you’ll love it. Pretty sure. NO, I have no idea! but I did want to tell you that I can’t wait for you to read/review On Chesil Beach (I saw your comment somewhere – Fyrefly’s?)

    Lisa – can you do that? read a book club selection too far in advance? I cannot. I tend to forget even if I loved the book!

    Nicole – you have such thoughtful reviews, I think you’ll like this one.

    Ali – ah, and WHICH day of the week is Someday!?

    Violet – yea, the name Olive seems to a typecasting name huh? Read it – I think you’ll like it.

    Debie – you are too cute. I am thrilled you are thrilled.

  11. Like you, I don’t follow the award winners; it’s always interesting to see what’s on it, but I don’t build my library around it.

    You know I’m doing this Game On Diet competition … between your reminding me of the doughnuts, the mention of blueberry pie you quoted, and your pie rating … I’m off to snack on a cheese stick!

    I agree, 5 pies (or 5 cheese sticks … pick your poison)

  12. Pies!! I like it.

    My F2F book club is reading this to discuss in October. Can’t wait. I *knew* it was a novel in stories but I think I knew that from reading other reviews.

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