Customer Review

984 of 1,008 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots of a Complex Woman, March 28, 2008
This review is from: Olive Kitteridge: Fiction (Hardcover)
I am not normally a fan of short stories. While I appreciate the technical abilities of the short story writer, I find "shortness" troublesome. Generally, the longer a book is, the more appealing. Consequently, I was initially leery of the descriptions of Elizabeth Strout's newest novel, "Olive Kitteridge," which calls itself "a novel in stories."

All of the stories in this book occur in the town of Crosby, Maine. At the center of many of the book's stories is the person, Olive Kitteridge, a retired teacher. In the stories that don't feature Olive, her name may appear only once in an effort to tie it to the larger work. That the stories center on one town, and a limited number of that town's inhabitants, who also reappear from time to time, I did not encounter my usual problems with short stories. This book gently reminded me of what is best about short-stories: a brief slice of a life, a snapshot that tells a complete-enough story. In having all these stories bound together, one feels a bit like the proverbial "fly on the wall"; a fly who may spend most of, but certainly not all, it's time in one particularly interesting home (Olive's).

I especially enjoyed reading about Olive in her post-retirement years, the ways in which she deals with other people and herself. In many ways, I can identify with Olive, having doled out bits of malice in angering situations; or having been soft and tender-hearted during others. Like Olive, I too have been both fool and sage.

I really enjoyed "Olive Kitteridge." Olive is a complex person vacillating between viciousness and compassion. In the way all people are puzzles, so is Olive. In one story she does something deplorable, in another she potentially saves a life. People can never be fully known, merely experienced in bits and pieces, from which a general portrait may be formed. This book is a testament to the mystery that is humanity: why we do what we do, what motivates us, how even self-knowledge is warped and lacking, and how ultimately, all people are fundamentally incapable of seeing themselves as a whole. Olive also embodies hope: one is never too old for surprises.

Many of the "stories" in "Olive Kitteridge" are deeply profound and thought provoking. I will not be at all surprised when this book does very well. It's structure is unusual; it's message is penetrating and accessible and universal. Olive causes me to think of the many complex, and at times unlikeable, people in my own life in a different way. Strout is a master of revealing the many onion-like layers of interpersonal relationships. Halfway through "Olive Kitteridge" I went out and bought two of her other books. I am also tentatively considering reading some other short-story collections by authors whose novels I've loved.

Like any great book, "Olive Kitteridge" slightly shifts the way in which I look at the world and other people, and perhaps most importantly, myself.
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Comments

Tracked by 7 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 20, 2009 8:21:27 PM PDT
LillyandGish says:
I used to heartily dislike short stories, too. I always wanted something "meatier," like a long novel. But I started reading Chekhov and got hooked on the short story. This book got my attention by winning the Pulitzer, and your review has made me decide to buy it. Kudos to you for a great review!

Posted on Apr 23, 2009 4:16:45 PM PDT
This is a fine review. I came to the Amazon site just to chew over the Pulitzer winners, but after reading your review, I have to buy OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Thank you for your thoughtful help to readers like me.

Posted on Jun 12, 2009 10:03:50 PM PDT
Great review! You have convinced me to order this one. Sounds like the author used a clever technique and that is always interesting to an avid reader.

Posted on Jun 16, 2009 8:51:14 PM PDT
I have always loved short stories, just as I love poetry. What's amazing to me is how these writers can say so much with brevity. I'm simply amazed at the craft of short story writers and poets. So I was happy to read that you have come to see what treasures short stories can be. I checked out the Olive Kittridge stories tonight because I heard the author on NPR today. Thanks to that interview and the reviews you and others have shared, I can't wait to begin reading about Olive. Thanks.

Posted on Aug 3, 2009 9:06:04 PM PDT
HappyPieLA says:
Such a well written review. Thank you, alaskabookworm.

Posted on Sep 1, 2009 4:10:02 AM PDT
Thank you not only for an excellent review but for sharing how you personally relate to it. Here, you were no fool--only sage!

Posted on Sep 11, 2009 12:56:16 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 11, 2009 12:57:20 AM PDT
There is a beauty and clarity in this book which captured me! I appreciate a review that provides insightful analysis. Thank you.

Posted on Oct 18, 2009 2:03:03 PM PDT
Barbara says:
Thank-you, sounds like something enjoyable. It is our book group's book for this month so I will read it.

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 5:29:35 PM PST
I believe your excellent review says it all. You were able to describe it in such a way that I could simply not. Elizabeth Strout produced a splendid book which you were able to do full justice to. Having said this, I plan to look at your other reviews as a reference guide. Many thanks.

Posted on Jan 30, 2010 3:40:12 PM PST
Mimi Mouche says:
I purchased this book and, having just finished reading it, fully agree with your excellent review
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