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
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
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.
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 . . .
Outstanding narration brought to life the many characters who cross Olive's path in the autumn of her life. The book is a meditation on aging, loneliness, love and death. Not for the fainthearted, and not for the young, but worth every minute. (or maybe that's just because I'm from New England, and the daughter of a flinty old crone).
I am a college professor and professional actor, director and playwright. The peformance of the book is as important to me as the writing.
Life's sweet ache
There are too many to mention, it is probably one of the most memorable books I have ever read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have generally been happy with pulitzer prize winning books. I loved both Lonesome Dove & The Road so I thought I'd give this a try.
I'm not one for short stories, but I enjoyed this book. Olive Kitteridge is in each story, sometimes as a centerpiece character & in others a tertiary character. Olive was at times difficult to like & other times funny. Whatever was going on, I found her always compelling. Most of the stories and their characters, I thought, were captivating in their own way. The stories were written with great rhythm & not remotely boring. Ultimately, I felt I got a snapshot in time of the various people in Olive's life and they were often sad, troubled, unhappy but there were also times of joy and love. Even though the positive moments were fleeting, the life many of the characters lived were written in an honest and real manor. I felt these people and their circumstances could really have happened...lost loves, old age, angry children, infidelity, suicidal ideation, new love, grief & just plain neuroses.
I cannot say that this book was my favorite, but it was different, interesting, intriguing. Yes, sad at times, but also uplifting and inspirational in how people picked up & carried on. Some may view this book to be about aging, family or even love. I believe this book's about perseverence-never give up.
I feel a review of the narration is important too since we rely so heavily on the narrator's interpretation of the book. I thought Sandra Burr's narration was quite slow. However, I thought her timing perfect. Listening to her read, I was not distracted but captivated by her. She did not read the book in any particular accent. However, when she did the voices, she used the Maine accent. She also sounded youthful or old when needed. She managed the men's voices quite well too. there were many times that her interpretation of the characters' voices punctuated my positive experience, & made it seem more real.
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
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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
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