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?