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Another Notable--Olive Kitteridge

June 08, 2009 by PatLeach

So far, "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout may be my favorite from this year's Notable Books List.  It also won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is a character in each of these short stories, set in a small town in Maine during the late twentieth century.  Olive stars in some of the stories, but barely walks through other ones.  She's a teacher, and so in a position to know many people.  Strout describes her as physically large and awkward.  Socially, she often says the wrong thing and finds herself stoking her own resentment when people disappoint her.

Strout makes the most of the short story.  Each one seems to answer a "what if" question.  What if the mother of the groom hears the bride laughing at her?  What if a man on his way to commit suicide is called on to save a drowning woman?  What if a little girl must keep her older sister's secret about running away?  She turns a sharp eye to social interactions, not looking away when cruelty enters where kindness would help.  And yet, people figure out how to connect with each other and get on with life.  In some ways, Strout reminds me here of my favorite short story writer, Alice Munro.

I read this book more like a novel, straight through.  I usually find, though, that I enjoy short stories more when I take some time to savor one before moving on to the next.

To whom would I recommend this?  To people who like short stories, and to some who say that they don't.  To people who find small town life interesting, and to people who love everyday life described well.

Have you read this?  What did you think?

Tagged in: Notable Books, Good Reads, Olive Kitteridge, short stories,
Comments: 4

Meeting Olive Kitteridge

May 19, 2009 by PatLeach
Alas!  Library Directors are seldom paid to read, but like many library people, I do plenty of reading on my own.

I read "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout because it's on this year's Notable Books List, as chosen by a committee of the American Library Association.  It also won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is the main character in several of these stories, and just a small player in others.  I found myself watching and waiting for her, wondering when and where she'd enter the story.  I ended up reading the book more like I read a novel, not pausing between stories.

Strouts sets the stories in Maine, in a small town along the coast.  The stories vary in time through the late 20th century.  Olive Kitteridge teaches, and so knows a lot of people.  She's a large and physically awkward person who often says the wrong thing and who sometimes stokes her own resentment when people don't turn out the way she'd hoped.

Strout employs the short story for its full potential here.  Exploring "what ifs" in social situations...what if the mother of the groom overhears the bride laughing at her?  What if a man who is about to commit suicide must first save the life of a drowning woman?  What if your big sister expects you to keep her secret about running away?

Each year, I read most of the books on the ALA Notable Books list, hoping that I'll find favorites among them.  So far this year, "Olive Kitteridge" leads the "favorites."

And if you've read "Olive Kitteridge," what did you think?  Is it one of your favorites?

Tagged in: Olive Kitteridge, ALA Notables, Notable Books, book reviews,
Comments: 0

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