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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge was selected by my book club The Page Turners, as our November read. Olive Kitteridge was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. After reading it, I can say that I am very pleased with this choice of winners. I have a certain expectation for story telling and writing when I pull a Pulitzer awarded book off the shelf and Olive Kitteridge did not disappoint.

The book is a collection of short stories of ordinary folks from a small town. I didn't feel like I was reading short stories that end and leave me wanting more. After hearing the second story, I was confident that I would be satisfied with another story that would some how connect me to the character, Olive Kitteridge. I was engrossed in the stories as if I was reading a novel. I was reminded of Russo's, Empire Falls. (Pulitzer Prize 2002). Often the best stories seem to come from a day in the life of ordinary people with every day family dynamics and issues.

The book takes place in the small town of Portland, Maine and the stories revolve around a central character Olive Kitteridge. At times she is a grumpy, outspoken, and a rude woman. As the stories unfold, more is revealed of Olive. Who is Olive Kitteridge? Do we love her or hate her? I appreciated her for being ordinary and sensible despite her flawed demeanor. For me Olive is " the town staple" like the local store or any other structure that individualizes a town.

Henry Kitteridge, Olive's husband, is a wonderful man and perhaps it may seem that he is too nice and too kind for Olive. Does he deserve the wrath of Olive? Yet we can sense at times that Olive has a deep love for Henry, her son and others. Why oh why doesn't this come through in her dealings with them at all times. The stories interconnect in a way to reveal Olive's insecurities and the depth of her character in relation to the perils of the community. Outwardly it seems that she doesn't have deep compassion to love those in her life, and yet the stories reveal more to us.

Who of us doesn't know an "Olive." And do we see or feel an "Olive" in our own self? So often it seems that Olive could use a word or two to "mend" a situation. What gets in the way of a kinder word being spoken to heal or mend the situation?

The writing is utterly fantastic. I do regret that I only listened to the audio book of Olive Kitteridge and I don't have any quotes to share as I was driving a lot when I listened. However, I want to say that this audio book was outstandingly well read. This is also book that I want to put into my own library.

How did my group like the book?

A member in Mississippi said, "I liked the book a lot and of course marked several Olive-isms." She had a lot more to contribute than just that and she enjoyed reading the book and savoring it.

Another member had this review to share:

" I gave Olive Kitteridge two stars because I liked the format of the book (a collection of short stories) and thought that some of the stories had profoundly thought provoking points. Unfortunately, the book didn't grab me. It could be because every short story seemed to start off the same... it took a several pages to figure out what was going on because of the exhaustive use of "they," "he," "she," or "it" before anything was clear. Overall, it wasn't a terrible book but not one I may recommend either."
-Chuluota Book Junkie

I give the book high praise for my favorite read of 2009. Have you read it? What do you think? I'd love to know.


bermudaonion said...

I haven't read this yet, but I really want to. I may use my Christmas gift certificate to buy it. Great review.

Anna said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and I hope to read it at some point.

Diary of an Eccentric

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too have heard many good things about it. I know what you mean about the problem with a good quote when you are listening to a book. When I am in the car, I actually have been known to pull over to the side of the road and write it down!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved the audio version Toni. Glad it seemed to be a hit.

Bonnie said...

I've read wonderful reviews of this book and that is high praise to be your favorite read of 2009. I have it TBR and need to read it soon!

Mary Gray said...

I added this to my "to read" list on Goodreads. Thanks for blogging about it!

Ladytink_534 said...

I honestly don't believe I've ever heard of it but I think I know at least one Olive in real life so I may enjoy it. :)

Literary Feline said...

I haven't yet read this one, but I really want to. I am glad you liked it so much, Toni. I love the idea that the novel is told in the format of short stories.

Serena said...

I have not read this book yet, but it sounds fascinating. Thanks for the great review.

I hope you had a great holiday!

Darlene said...

Great review Toni. I've got mine set to post on Thursday and have linked your review to mine cause it's so much better. I liked it enough but you got much more out of it than I did.

Bonnie said...

I have this TBR on my bookshelf and will be reading it soon! I hope that my book club reads it as it sounds like a great book to discuss.

Margot said...

I have this one but haven't read it yet - hopefully soon. I'm glad you really liked it. Sometimes I'm disappointed in the award winners but this one sounds like it's truly a winner.