Sunday, May 29, 2011

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

For the life of me, I cannot understand how this novel won a Pulitzer Prize. The committee must have had an overstock of shrinks and therapists! Practically every character is either suicidal, anorexic, depressed, paranoid, just plain loopy, or all of the above. Crosby, Maine must be one hell-hole of a place to live.

Olive Kitteridge, retired school teacher, lives with her husband Henry, the town pharmacist, and her son Christopher. Chris marries a woman whom Olive, naturally, hates. She has disparaging comments about everyone in town, which sometimes she bases on nothing more than rumor. Her husband tells her she has never apologized for anything. In the closing chapters, she admits this. So guess how many people, including her son, she called and tried to make amends? Zero. Olive is one of the most despicable characters I have encountered in quite a while. Why are people afraid to apologize – when they are wrong or even when right, and the dispute is not worth the loss of a friend? Is saving face that important? Is the possibility of appearing weak that repulsive?

However, the novel is well written. Numerous passages sprinkled throughout have a certain luster, a smooth polished surface that kept me reading. Here is one example:

“He was as much a stranger up here now as any tourist might be, and yet gazing back at the sun-sliced bay, he noted how familiar it felt; he had not expected that. The salt air filled his nose, the wild rugosa bushes with their white blossoms brought him a vague confusion; a sense of sad ignorance seemed cloaked in their benign white petals” (31).

I gather these chapters are intended as a collection of short stories, but does the reader need to be told in nearly every chapter that Olive taught math in seventh grade? Some more skillful editing would have helped this story become a bit more enjoyable.

All of these stars are strictly for the writing. 3 stars

--Chiron, 5/29/11

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