News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
2nd April 2010

Creative and humane stories

posted in Books |

At the back of the library copy of Olive Kitttredge by Elizabeth Strout, there is an interview with the author at which Olive is present and, in truth, Olive is so real to me that I can very easily imagine the scene, especially where she tells Strout that something is “none of your damned business.” That’s Olive for you. (I’m a little afraid she might call me up if I say too much about her, except I don’t think she reads blogs). The imagined encounter is also a good illustration of the humor that can be found lurking throughout the book, even in some of the more difficult situations (I’m thinking of the hostage situation where Olive starts in about her religious mother-in-law for one). Another sly undercurrent occurs when Olive says to her husband Henry about the Kennisons, a retired couple from Massachusetts, that “she must spend her life making up for his boorishness.” You immediately think that the same could probably be said of Henry about Olive! For the truth is she is rather difficult.

The book is made up of thirteen stories, all set in a coastal town in Maine (Brunswick?) and all either revolving around or somehow alluding to Olive. While Olive is not quite the center of the book, somehow the web of stories brings her to the foreground, probably in a way that would seem odd to her, since she has trouble, in the beginning at least, of seeing herself through the eyes of others. The setting, if you’ve ever spent any time in Maine, is as real as Olive- with lobstermen, donut shops, church suppers, the wry humor of the people and the skeptical attitude displayed towards out-of-staters, those “from away.” On the other hand, as a friend pointed out, the human drama could be situated anywhere – the problems of marriage, children, aging, the dangerous reefs that must be avoided in any long-held relationship, the problem as well as the need of other people. Strout doesn’t say too much, but her methods bring a world to life and with it a connection to our own worlds – our own hopes and fears. Get to know Olive; she’s worth it.

There is currently one response to “Creative and humane stories”

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  1. 1 On April 2nd, 2010, Flaherty1 said:

    Olive Kitteridge sparked one of the best discussions we have ever had at last month’s book group. Each character faces a variety of problems – many profound. The key question that came up again and again was whether these problems are typical. In other words, are all the people in your life who appear to be normal, sane, level-headed folks actually seething with all sorts of family conflicts and inner demons? Are the outwardly devoted couples actually considering straying from time to time? Are the seemingly pious really plagued by doubt?

    The great thing about this book is that it operated on many levels at once. It was funny and sad at the same time. Many characters were admirable at one point and rather sordid at another. Like real life I guess!

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