Review: Olive Kitteridge

2.5 out of 5 stars

At least it wasn’t The Goldfinch, I guess.

Goodreads.com: Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge #1), by Elizabeth Strout

I’ve read (and loved!) Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction before: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and others. But the adoration for Olive Kitteridge, I do not get. I did finish it, because it’s so short. That’s a lot more than I can say for the prize’s other biggest confusing disappointment, The Goldfinch.

Olive Kitteridge is a mean, sad, judgmental older lady in a small town. She has taken not great care of the few people she allows to be in her life (husband and son), yet she clings to them emotionally like a drowning person in a shipwreck. Which is basically what she’s made of her life. Her sainted, patient husband Henry takes it like a champ. Her distant son Christopher can’t get away far enough fast enough.

The book is a novel in short stories. Melancholy stories of the lives of unfulfilled townspeople bump gently against each other. Olive is the touchstone, appearing as a minor character in the lives of those around her. None of their experiences with her are positive, but neither are they particularly impactful. Which is why I’m confused about this book: There’s no point to Olive. She’s not a through line. She’s pretty hateable, actually, if you devoted that much energy to it – but there was no incentive to do so. I thought all the people in this town were pretty sad sack, and the book made me feel little sympathy or hope for them. It felt like driving through town on a bleak day, catching glimpses of dull people through dreary windows. If this is a slice of life, I certainly don’t want to live there.

There is a limited series version from 2014, starring Frances McDormand. I should probably try it, because if anyone can make me love a character, it’s Frances McDormand. But my hopes are not high.

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