Friday, July 17, 2015

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for the curious novel, Olive Kitteridge.  Oprah selected it for her book club.  Several friends recommended it, and I stated to read it, but I found the title character a miserable, thoroughly unpleasant individual.  The “Rule of Fifty” quickly took over, and I had almost forgotten it, when a miniseries of the novel appeared.  Olive was played by Frances McDormand, an actor I greatly admire.  I decided to watch the 4-part miniseries, and I am glad I did.  Normally a film follows a reading, but in this case the film drew me back to the novel for a second go.

Olive is married to Henry, a pharmacist in a small town in Maine, and they have one child, Christopher.  Olive is a demanding wife and mother, and she never misses an opportunity to skewer Henry, or her son, her students, or anyone else not up to her standards.  Olive does not suffer fools lightly.  Henry obviously loves Olive, and he most often silently submits to Olive’s barbs.  Occasionally, he will come back at Olive, but then ends up submitting.  Strout writes, “Olive had refused to go to church the day before, and Henry, uncharacteristically, had spoken to her sharply.  ‘Is it too much to ask,’ he found himself saying, as he stood in the kitchen in his undershorts, ironing his trousers.  ‘A man’s wife accompanying him to church?’  Going without her seemed a public exposure of familial failure. // ‘Yes, it most certainly is too […] much to ask!’  Olive had spit, her fury’s death flung open.  ‘You have no idea how tired I am, teaching all day, going to foolish meetings where the […] principal is a moron!  Shopping.  Cooling.  Ironing.  Laundry.  Doing Christopher’s homework with him!  And you –‘  She grabbed on to the back dining room chair, and her dark hair, still uncombed from its night’s disarrangement, had fallen across her eyes.  You, Mr. Head Deacon Claptrap Nice Guy, expect me to give up my Sunday mornings and go sit among a bunch of snot-wots!’  Very suddenly she had sat down in the chair.  ‘Well, I’m sick and tired of it,’ she said, calmly.  ‘Sick to death’.”  // A darkness had rumbled through him; his soul was suffocating in tar.  The next morning.  Olive spoke to him conversationally.  “Jim’s car smelled like upchuck last week.  Hope he’s cleaned it out.’  Jim O’Casey taught with Olive, and for years took both Christopher and Olive to school” (9).  Now, I can’t help hearing Frances McDormand as Olive. 

Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins
Olive has numerous struggles in her life, not the least of which involve Henry and Christopher.  She also has a secret life, which has a tragic ending devastating to Olive. Unlike the novel, which begins innocuously with Henry opening the pharmacy one morning, the film begins with a scene of Olive contemplating suicide.  This subject comes up several times in the novel with various results following Olive’s chance encounters with other characters outside her family.  Spoiler alert, she does not follow through with her plan. 

I am sorry I did not get back to Elizabeth Strout’s funny/sad, poignant/obnoxious novel, Olive Kitteridge.  A good example of why keeping those novels I abandon early on safely on the shelf patiently awaiting a second chance.  Still, Olive did make me a bit squirmish, so I give it 4 stars

--Chiron, 6/25/15

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