I don't normally read short stories, but I'm not sure Olive Kitteridge is your typical anthology of short stories.
For one thing, it reads like a novel, throughout which we see the character of Olive Kitteridge appear. Sometimes she is the main force behind the whole story; other times, she merely breezes through a room. Several of the characters make multiple appearances, which help to build each short story and give us different shades to the people we meet.
Everyone in the small town of Crosby, Maine knows Mrs. Kitteridge. Many remember her as their 7th Grade Math teacher, an unforgettable figure in any one's childhood. (Right, Mrs. Smith?) Others know her as a neighbour, a wife, a mother, and very few know her as a friend. Yet, when we are shown a softer side to Olive, it comes as naturally to her as are her aggressive outbursts toward her husband.
At first, Mrs. Kitteridge comes across as a cranky old lady, but as we continue through the stories, we are introduced to other sides of her, sides that are almost likable.
Unfortunately, her marriage was not her greatest display of empathy, at least not in the beginning. Regardless of how she treated Henry, Olive was loved by her husband, and she did, on some level, love him back. Henry's love for her gives the reader hope that there is something beneath Olive's rough exterior.
At one point in the book, Olive is thinking about her son, Chris, and compares his behavior to her own. "Olive can understand why Chris has never bothered having many friends. he is like her in that way, can't stand the blah-blah-blah. And they'd just as soon blah-blah-blah about you when your back is turned. 'Never trust folks,' Olive's mother told her years ago..." I felt this passage says a lot about Mrs. Kitteridge and why she is the way she is.
I am pleased to say I found things to love about Mrs. Kitteridge. At times, when a small act of kindness comes from someone you least expect, it means more somehow. It feels more genuine. So, from Mrs. Kitteridge, a pat on the hand, or a passing of a tissue, is enough for someone to take notice of its underlying sentiment.
Once I discovered a few of Olive's more tender moments, I was able to connect with her and, consequently, with the book as a whole.
Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was a pleasant surprise.
For more information about Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout or to read an excerpt, you can visit the book's page at the Random House website.
About the Book:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
This book is a part of my personal library.