Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2008


I’m sad.  Not because Olive Kitteridge ended – as is sometimes the case when I read an acclaimed book.  (And Olive Kitteridge is acclaimed having won the Pulitzer Prize.) I’m sad because the lives of so many of the characters, “day after day unconsciously squander their lives.”   This is not a reason to avoid this novel.  Just fair warning.

Truly there are all kinds of reasons to read it.  For one – the concept is fascinating.  The novel is a series of short story/chapters linked by the appearance of one Olive Kitteridge, resident of Crosby, Maine (are all the other characters in each chapter.)  Hence the title – Olive Kitteridge .

I’m not always a lover of short story collections.  But I Stout kept me glued to each story,  curious as to how and when Olive would appear.   Sometimes it was no more than one of the characters catching a glimpse of Olive and her husband Henry from afar.  In others – Olive saves a life, sees a disaster coming, or explodes in a torrent of wrath.  (As in the arresting story where Olive finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, bound and held hostage. I take my hat off to Strout on that one.)

The other reason to read the novel is that the stories are good.   Yes, Strout has gone for the tough stuff, ferreting out the pathology, the abuse, the desperate struggles to triumph, contained in every human story if we scratch the surface. And drawn together they become a many faceted gem.  Life as a black diamond so to speak, with all of its black “ inclusions” as jewelers say.

So be prepared.  There is darkness everywhere in this novel.  Yet here and there we recognize ourselves.  And if we’re lucky, we wil learn from what we read, before it is too late.

Diane Rehm chose this for her reader review.  To listen click here: l.