Saturday, December 05, 2009

Staff Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Stout, creates yet another masterpiece with her novel Olive Kitteridge. As stated in a conversation with Elizabeth Stout and Olive Kitteridge, which the reader will find at the end of the book, "the power of Olive's character (ferocious and complicated and kindly and sometimes cruel) is best portrayed in an episodic manner". Olive Kitteridge reads more like a collection of loosely related short stories, all focused on the individuals who populate the small town of Crosby, Maine... all focused on the inner life and frailty and sufferings and triumphs of each character.

Olive Kitteridge is often seen as an utterly unlikeable, occasionally abusive, absolutely frank, judgmental character. What saves her, as the reader learns while progressing through seemingly unrelated chapters, is her valiant self-honesty, her accurate sensitivity to those around her, and her growing self awareness. We the reader are also made aware through other characters what history formed Olive Kitteridge. By her own definition she has "the strong passions and prejudices of a peasant". Olive is opinionated, quarrelsome, critical, overly sensitive, and sometimes excruciatingly kind and perceptive. And in the end Olive Kitteridge learns the value of love above all else, even if the subject of her love and comfort is a Republican who voted for an idiot.

Reviewed by Janet Elfant

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