Olive Kitteridge is a no-nonsense and cantankerous retired school teacher living in rural Maine. The book is a series of short stories, unconnected in any way except for the involvement of this prickly character. The stories are varied, and often depressing, detailing the lives and struggles of the people living in this small town. There is a good deal of depression, suicide, adultery, marital difficulties, but ultimately there is also love, understanding, and hope.
Olive’s part in these stories is sometimes central and sometimes only fleeting, a glimpse of her on the periphery. She is definitely a strong presence and a difficult woman, who often behaves appallingly, puzzling her husband and alienating her son, frightening students, and generally disliked by most of the town. But as we watch her through this myriad of stories we see moments of true connection, moments of hurt and loneliness. We begin to see that behind her rough exterior there is depth of feeling, she is often nothing more than a frightened, sad, and lonely person struggling through life.
Travelling with Olive through these stories, and glimpsing into the private lives of others within the town, we are reminded that everyone struggles and we can never truly know what lives in the hearts and minds of those around us. All we can know is that we are each on our own journey and that in our travels we will impact those around us in ways we cannot predict, as others will impact us.
Well-written with thought-provoking tales about life and love, Olive Kitteridge is a wonderful story of a woman’s struggle with life, her attempts to understand it, her desperate need to be forgiven and loved, and her hope.
“Her eyes were closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude – and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet.”
Title: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publication: Random House, March 2008
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