Monday, July 13, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

This weekend I finished reading this wonderful Pulitzer Prize winning novel by author Elizabeth Strout. The book is actually 13 short stories all linked by the novel's namesake, Olive Kitteridge, a high school math teacher in the small town of Crosby, Maine. Each of the 13 stories offer a brief snapshot or glimpse into the lives of some of Crosby's many citizens. In "Pharmacy" we're first introduced to Henry Kitteridge, Olive's kind and steadfast husband, a pharmacist in the next town over. A gentle soul, always eager to please, even at his own happiness' expense. In "Incoming Tide" we meet Kevin Coulson, a lost and tortured ex-student of Olive's on the brink of doing the unthinkable. Throughout these and the remaining stories we get a full measure of Olive, at times strong, mean, cold, and demanding, and at others hurting, kind, lonely. Like most of us, Olive is a mixture of good and bad, and while at times she earns your enmity, at others, like when her new daughter-in-law is mocking Olive's wedding attire to her friends, you feel protective of her, indignant at their slight.

I would highly recommend this book. Each story offers a little pearl of wisdom that we can use in our own lives, and despite the fact that most of the stories are no more than 20-30 pages long, some even shorter, the stories are so well-written and the characters so well-defined that they seem almost real. You feel like a voyeur, privy to brief glimpses of these sad and troubled lives. A truly engaging read which leaves you curious -- and caring -- about what happens next.