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
The narrator tried to put on a Maine accent but I think it was over done. She also tried a Southern accent, missed the mark again. Why not no accent?
Reading allows me to travel through time, to visit the world's unique and stunning places, to become somebody I am not... It is glorious.
I rarely read short stories, and when I purchased this book I didn't realize that it is essentially short stories. A reviewer on Amazon describes it as though a chapter was ripped out of 20 different books about Olive and compiled into one book. The characters all disappear from the canvas when the chapter ends. I just began to like the people when the story changes and revolves around another character. Yes, Olive is in each story, but I fond her to be an unlikable character and so this doesn't rescue the story. I will not read this again.
Olive Kitteridge is not easy to like, but her husband is. This collection of stories about the residents of a small Maine town is more sad than happy, somewhat depressing, but with a touch of humor. I recently learned there is an HBO movie being made from this book. It will be interesting to see how Olive's unique personality comes across in a movie.
A superb book, but not-so-good narration. The prose is wonderful, descriptive without being flowery, conveying the humor, sadness, and anguish of the multiple characters. Sandra Burr narrates in a flat, drawn-out cadence that diminishes this lovely book. On the positive side, when she is reading dialogue, her inflection and Maine accent are perfect.
This is such a wonderful book, I wish the narration did it justice.
I thought this study of the life of a woman in chapters where sometimes she was the featured character and sometimes she was a walk-in was a unique treatment that set this book apart from other novels.
Olive was my favorite, even though she was not a character that everyone would like -- similiar to Jane Austen's Emma. And although she was outspoken, she truly loved people, especially her son (and as the mother of a only child, also a son, I can relate).
No, this is my first. I thought her performance was a little uneven with the accents. Sometimes she totally slipped out of the accent, particularly with the men. Other than the accents, I liked her performance.
A very moving experience.
There were so many facets of Olive! After each story you understood her more and more, and dare I say, loved her more and more, too!
Each chapter in this book is a different story, but yet involves Olive in some way.
Olive, of course!
Olive. I would love to buy her a nice dinner and cocktails. I think there would be many more stories she would tell!
A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!
The story telling mechanism of this book took me a while to grow accustomed to and appreciate. Rather than being a traditional novel, this is a collection of short stories about the life of Olive Kitteridge. For me, it began as disjointed and frustrating, and by the end I really appreciated the unique story telling and the windows it opened into Olive's life.
I've always loved books. Even before I could read I've loved them. Fact or Fiction, I love books. I'd sooner read a book than see a movie.
The only thing which I would have liked to have in this book was a date reference. I guess in the long run each tale didn't rely on a time frame, but still, I would have liked a placement of each. Also there were other tales referenced about the town's people which I would have liked to know about. This was the first book which I've read from Elizabeth Strout, so I'm not sure as to how she works her books, there might be another book which tells of other stories in the town.
The realism of the characters. They were neither bad nor good, neither sad or happy, they were like normal everyday people, each with their own flaws and perfections. Each story left you asking questions and wanting a bit more of the tales.
Sandra has a great reading voice and pace which makes the story stand out and become more visual. Each character was unique as played out in the book.
Well I would like to know more of Olive and the others in the book. As it is I feel a little unfinished with their stories.
This is a good piece of fiction and could easily be used in teaching writing in schools.
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.
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