Thursday, February 24, 2011

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I am not sure I really like Olive Kitteridge. The book, I liked. The character...well. She is not a woman to be taken lightly, or ignored. She is a bore, a bully, an emotional bag of wind and well you get the picture. At least I think she is. Then again...

Let me try to explain.

This is one of those books that I had to keep asking myself if I really liked. There are TONS of characters and it doesn't seem to really fit together until you are way into the book. And each chapter has a cameo at least of Olive..she is the glue, or the peanut butter or at least the sticky jam that makes it hang together.

The book is a little like window peeking. As the reader, you are walking down the street in small town Maine (or Vermont ) and pausing at each house to listen in to what is really happening behind the doors. This is not the glitzy, sweet small town glimpse that idolizes the drugstore and the quaint seaside village with it's church steeples and odd characters. Instead, it's more like what people look like first thing in the morning without makeup or brushed teeth. It's a bit raw and uncomfortable...and that's precisely when Olive seems to appear.

But, there is a part of Olive, buried deeply in the rolls of her ample body, that is able to pause with her hand on the spiked haired head of an anorexic girl. This Olive tears up without wanting to, meaning to, or hardly even realizing as she talks to her dear husband Henry on the phone after his stroke. She is a bundle of opposites. She hates to be at home alone, but she also hates the jobs and people that are out there...

Life isn't what she expected...but she didn't really have any expectations...

I really liked the complicated pictures of the people in this book. I liked that I was often a bit confused. I liked that I didn't like Olive and then she took me totally by surprise. I liked that New England was not perfect and Norman Rockwellish. I liked that even when Olive took a step forward - like reconciling with her son - she still messed up and panicked and ended up right back where she started. I liked that the story just ended.

So - I guess it's ok not to love the main character, not to even like her most of the time, and end up with a book that makes me wonder and ponder and revisit.

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