18 Nov Olive You, Olive Kitteridge
To be completely honest, I never had a desire to read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
For one, I thought the main character (Olive) was a young girl and I assumed it was some type of coming-of-age story (I haven’t been in the mood for that type of story in several years).
For two, years after I had shrugged off reading it, I remember reading something about it being “a story in stories.” I don’t hate short story collections, I just (for some unknown reason) have a hard time committing to them. I’ve tried different tactics over the years to get myself to be more in to them, but to no avail.
So, to me, OK was either a coming-of-age or some type of short story collection. Oh yeah, it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
Great- I’ll pass. No thanks.
Last year my mom randomly game me a copy of OK. As far as I know she hadn’t read it and had just given it to me as a gift. I do like Elizabeth Strout as an author, but she wasn’t a favorite. Previously I had read and enjoyed Amy and Isabelle and My Name is Lucy Barton.
So-now that I had a copy of OK I still didn’t want to read it. To this day I don’t know why I stuck it on my book shelf rather than straight to my trade/donate bag. Skip ahead to the end of September of this year, I received a copy of Olive, Again by Strout from #RandomHouse , which is the sequel to OK.
Awesome. Now I had the sequel to a book I didn’t want to read in the first place. I do have to admit, I thought Olive, Again had a beautiful cover. That navy, with those leaves, such a great combination- but that was all I thought it had going for it.
A week or so later I found myself in the play room at home looking at some of my book shelves for potential blog posts.
Smack, right in the middle of my view was Olive-freaking-Kitteridge.
I pulled it from the shelf and flipped it to the back cover.
I read the synopsis and then opened it and read a little of first page.
Then I carried it with me as I walked from the room.
Y’all- I was SO wrong about this book.
After reading OK, I can say it’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and it’s definitely on my top ten books list.
That being said, I don’t think everyone will love this book. I don’t think there is a middle ground either-you love it or you hate it.
Also-I forgot to mention another reason for my aforementioned distaste for OK. Two of my good friends hated OK. In fact one of them gave me a copy of Strout’s, The Burgess Boys and stuck a post-it to the front that reads:
“I didn’t like Olive Kitteridge, but really liked My Name is Lucy Barton.”
Isn’t that interesting?
My two trains of thought as to why you may not like OK go like this:
1. You don’t like reading books about characters you don’t like (personally this doesn’t bother me). Olive is introduced in the first story/chapter. My first impression? She is a b!t€h. That might turn you off toward continuing on, but it spurred me on. I had a feeling there was more to Mrs. Kitteridge.
This time I was right.
Olive is one of the most real fictional characters I have ever encountered. She is so multi-layered, as all humans are, but this is something you can’t see unless you read on.
Which brings me to:
2. This story is told in stories. This is not a book of short stories, at least not in the traditional sense. Are you confused? In the first story (think of these stories as chapters if it helps keep it all together) you are also introduced to Olive’s husband, who is a pharmacist named Henry. Olive is a retired school teacher.
Each subsequent story features someone else in their small town of Crosby, Maine. Somewhere in their story, they have had an interaction/encounter with Olive. This is where you see the beauty of the story and the many layers of Olive come alive. You learn her story and who she is as well as some of the stories of those she lives amongst. Seeing someone through a multitude of lenses allows something different to be seen every time. We may rub someone the wrong way for any number of reasons, yet the next person we meet might think we walk on water.
(And FYI, I don’t care who you are, you have a bitchy side. Olive just happens to show her’s right off the bat.)
What’s fascinating to me is the fact that even though this story is told through many stories it still has linear/ chronological feel. Bottom line: it makes sense even though it’s written in a non-typical way.
I have found myself thinking about this book many times since finishing. I’m amazed at how much I enjoyed this book, I guess because I zero interest in it for so long. Domestic dramas top my favorite genres list. Authors like Anne Tyler, Sue Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and more recently Richard Russo are amongst my favorite who continue to wow me with their literary talents. I hadn’t read enough of Strout to include her in my list of favorites, but she’s there now.
As much as I loved OK, I haven’t started reading Olive, Again. It’s not because I don’t want to, but rather because I’m really excited too, but I know will be a bit sad when it’s over (a quality only true bookworms understand). All of the characters, not just Olive, felt so real. Small-town life and all of its intricacies were captured superbly in this book.
I do know how Olive, Again begins, but I’m not going to say because it’s a bit of a spoiler if you have just started or plan to read OK. I will tell you that it is written in stories just like the first book, so if you enjoyed OK, I’m sure you will enjoy OA.
Last but not least, I have more thing to share with you. In the heading photo of this post is a small card with a green olive on it
This is a small greeting card sold by Hallmark. Many years ago when my sister or I would come across this in a store we’d buy it and send it to each other. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, “Olive you,” it’s another way to say, “I love you” ( it sounds like, “ah-love you” ) and my sister and would write this in our letters, so the fact that this little card exists is just a sweet reminder of her. That-and I thought it suited Olive Kitteridge quite well.
“Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.” – Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge
“Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.” -Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge