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Olive Kitteridge | [Elizabeth Strout]

Olive Kitteridge

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Tart, sorrowful Olive Kitteridge is the moody battle-ax intersecting each of Elizabeth Strout's exquisitely spare new "novel in stories". imperfect and struggling, Strout's characters grind through the dulling routines of ordinary domestic life in churchgoing Crosby, Maine: the drudgery of fixing supper night after night or shivering through a lukewarm show. They are awkward, but authentic. "Patrick McCarthy...perspired so much that splotches of his shirt would be wet, at times even down over his breasts, so the poor fellow looked to be lactating," observes Strout.

Olive is a retired math teacher with the habit of saying "these weird things, very powerfully", which agitates her students, natch. Henry, her husband, is a gentle pharmacist who dispenses "pills and syrups and syringes", yet cannot cure his own wife's destructive eruptions. Their melancholy son Christopher grows into a distant teenager, then a brittle adult. He inherits his mother's tormented relationship with depression.

Olive and Henry don't anchor all 13 tales. Points of view shift, revealing a wistful lounge singer and the 11-year-old daughter of a cracked former beauty queen, among them. Narrator Sandra Burr mostly nails the flat, dawdling Down East accent ("ayuh") of coastal Maine. She refines Olive's bluster by pitching her voice low and slow and growly, thus hinting at the despondency behind Olive's attacks. As for ponderous Henry, Burr permeates his dialogue with apologetic throat-clearings to channel how "inwardly, he suffered the quiet trepidations of a man who had witnessed twice in childhood the nervous breakdowns of a mother".

Burr isn't showy about her extraordinary range, though she easily could be. Olive Kitteridge thrives largely because she invests each character with distinguishable emotions. Nina White, anorexic and wasting into bones, begins all zippy teen inflection and finishes in subdued, unlit tones. Burr embodies Kevin, a young psychiatrist revisiting his mother's suicide, with the raw rasp of a hurting dude. The single misstep Burr makes in an otherwise faultless audio rendering is oozing too much buttery lilt as Jane, a housewife who kicks up her 75-year-old husband's adulterous betrayal in the midst of revived marital bliss.

Strout chronicles love, loss, infidelity, and aging within the cyclical framework of time passing. Christopher divorces, remarries, and fathers a child. Henry suffers a massive stroke, becomes paralyzed, then dies. Olive shows herself to be capable of deep kindness and vulnerability. When zonked by an unexpected romance with a widower while still grieving Henry, 74-year-old Olive puzzles, "Here they were...two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out you." And, with that, Olive Kitteridge's redemption becomes a fait accompli. —Nita Rao

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2009

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer's eyes, it's in essence the whole world. The lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human dramas: desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life - sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition - its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

©2008 Elizabeth Strout; (P)2008 Brilliance Audio

What the Critics Say

"Thirteen linked tales from Strout present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers....impossible to forget. Its literary craft and emotional power will surprise readers unfamiliar with Strout." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (898 )
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4.1 (393 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Diane Mount Vernon, NY, United States 05-27-09
    Diane Mount Vernon, NY, United States 05-27-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Olive Kitteridge"

    At first I thought, "oh well," so many people gave this a wonderful review, but I was finding it a bit too slow. I stayed with the book. The writer is excellent, the narrator also captivating. Before long, I found myself tied up with the characters and, I must say, I have known a few of those people myself.
    I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. It is a piece of time in Maine. Easy to listen to, not for those seeking action packed drama.


    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    brenda hubbard Ellensburg, Wa. United States 08-27-12
    brenda hubbard Ellensburg, Wa. United States 08-27-12 Member Since 2012

    I am a college professor and professional actor, director and playwright. The peformance of the book is as important to me as the writing.

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    "Stunning, beautifully written and read!"
    If you could sum up Olive Kitteridge in three words, what would they be?

    Life's sweet ache


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Olive Kitteridge?

    There are too many to mention, it is probably one of the most memorable books I have ever read.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a must read/listen for anyone who likes stories with beautifully rendered characters. Written with humor and deep understanding of her subjects, Elizabeth Strout seems to be able to capture the heart of all of her characters in a way that few writers can. She hones in of the pain and suffering of marriage, aging and small town life while also finding the irony and humor of the human condition. The reader, Sandra Burr, is spot on. Without using gimicky voices or vocal tricks, she brings a brilliantly done and artful nuance to every moment of the story. She is probably one of the best readers I have ever heard. I just adore this book and plan to read all of Strout's other books. This is one of the most beautifully written stories I have had the pleasure to read. Amazing book and absolute MUST.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Blythe Longmont, CO, United States 10-01-09
    Blythe Longmont, CO, United States 10-01-09 Member Since 2009
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    "Life as it is captured unerringly"

    As I looked through the reviews and saw the strong positive and strong negative range (with little in between), I knew I was in for a treat. Anything that draws such feelings is written with true power and emotion I find. This is not escapist reading or especially light, but it is incredibly rewarding in the wise, sometimes even elegiac, light Strout sheds on the lives of ordinary people struggling through the challenges of outwardly unexceptional lives. As is true in life itself, these folks are often frustrating, silly, misguided, and, yet, all too real. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed this book as much twenty years ago . . . I think you have to have been seasoned by life a bit to appreciate the challenges we all face as the 'seasonings' of life are applied and acquired . . .

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. CASEY austin, tx 12-31-08
    R. CASEY austin, tx 12-31-08 Member Since 2007

    lopine

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    "a great read"

    I really enjoyed this book and hated to see it end. Well written and rich characters. I don't write many reviews but had to put in a recommendation for this. If you like well-written fiction, you'll love this book.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 12-19-08
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 12-19-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Coming of age - later years"

    This is a rather intriguing collection of inter-related stories that take place in a small town in Maine. We see the human growth of Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher and a fascinating character. She is the focus of most of these stories and at least makes an appearance in every one of them. The stories and the excellent narration give a vivid sense of life in this small town. Marital and inter-generational conflicts are portrayed with believable honesty. In general, the female characters are better developed than the male ones, but that is presumably the point of view of these stories. Quite enjoyable.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MP 11-10-09
    MP 11-10-09 Listener Since 2008
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    "A Classic"

    I have read and listened to many books and this one is a real classic. It takes some getting used to Sandra Burr, but once you're into her narration you can't imagine a better listen. The text itself is breathtaking and true to our humanness and life struggles. This book and audio-book are MUST read/listen--without a doubt. Do it. Listen. Now. This is an amazing piece of literature.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gingerpenny95 Fairfield, Ca, United States 03-30-09
    gingerpenny95 Fairfield, Ca, United States 03-30-09 Member Since 2003
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    "If you like Maeve Binchy"

    If you like Maeve Binchy, the Irish writer who weaves short stories with recurring characters into a novel, you make like this one. The reader is wonderful at changing voices and her New England accent is easy to listen to.

    I will probably listen to this one again because I need to get straight some of the characters that reappear. All in all, a good read.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 12-23-08
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 12-23-08 Member Since 2008

    Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy

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    "Not a fun listen"

    but I stuck with it. It is a strong indictment of the senior years and this book does not make the "golden years" something to look forward to or welcome. Too many calamities and problems--death by anorexia, infidelity, near drowning, lonliness, etc, etc. And let's face it, Olive is not an admirable or likeable lady. Still, it was a listenable and sometimes interesting story of a women with a difficult personality.

    12 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 01-16-14
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 01-16-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Gotta Love that Ollie"

    I sincerely feel that the depth of ones enjoyment of this novel will lay solely on the age of the reader. There are many thoughts that the women in this book have that could not be enjoyed and appreciated by a woman younger than 40 years of age. To someone over that age there are points and phrases in this novel that felt like someone was singing the song of a tune that I could only hum.

    This is not your happily ever after feel good story. This is a collection of stories about the same group of people. Olive Kitteridge is sometimes the protagonist in a story and other times she gets just a cameo mention. Where you don’t see some of yourself – you see someone you know. I found this to be enlightening and poignant.

    Sandra Burr’s voices allows you to hear the size of her characters – they are that visual. Her range of men, children and women is impressive, not to mention her accent.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anastasia Burke California 04-15-09
    Anastasia Burke California 04-15-09 Member Since 2007

    Say something about yourself!

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    "Destroyed by the narration"

    I wanted to like this book (obviously, because, hey, I paid for the download). But I didn't.

    Elizabeth Strout is a reliable creator of complex and interesting characters, bringing their small town New England lives to life for the reader. She has, once again, created the kind of vivid characters she did in "Amy and Issabelle."

    I think the biggest fault with this audio book is with the narrator. The tempo plodded. The voices were horrible. I found the "voices" of both Olive and Henry to be grating. And each spoke slowly, to the point where I felt almost held down by the dragging, complaining, lethargic tones.

    Olive herself isn't just a cantankerous old woman--she's extremely dislikable. She's great at judging others, while unable (as with most of us) to see her own part in the failures of her life.

    She starts to "get it" in the end, but you have to wade through the painful narration to get there.

    I enjoy tackling difficult books. I love books that detail the day-to-day doings that everyone must go through. And I love Elizabeth Strout. But I did not love this audio book at all.

    12 of 21 people found this review helpful
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