- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Random House (October 15, 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812996542
- ISBN-13: 978-0812996548
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 1,704 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Olive, Again: A Novel Hardcover – October 15, 2019
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2019: She’s baaaaack. Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize and spawned a hit HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. In Olive, Again she resurrects the endearing curmudgeon from Crosby, Maine in thirteen interconnected stories that remind us that you’re never too old to grow up. As the book opens, Olive is being wooed, in a manner of speaking, by fellow widow Jack Kennison. Even he is at a loss to explain the precise reasons for his affection for her, but as we see Olive fumbling through everyday life—still grappling with its disappointments and mysteries—we recognize a kindred soul. Olive, Again is not what you would call a page-turner. There are the none of the requisite heart-racing moments, but a steady beat of ordinary magic (which ends up being not so ordinary at all). --Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
“In the first chapter of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again . . . the man who will become Olive’s second husband writes, ‘Dear Olive Kitteridge, I have missed you and if you would see fit to call me or email me or see me, I would like that very much.’ Jack Kennison might be speaking for fans of Strout’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Olive Kitteridge, which inspired an Emmy-winning HBO mini-series and now this sequel. However, like its iconic heroine, this book is capable of standing alone. . . . [Olive] is as indelible as the ink on Jack Kennison’s paper. If you know Olive, you know how she would respond to the hoopla: with an eye roll and an ‘Oh Godfrey.’ It’s good to have her back.”—Elisabeth Egan, The New York Times Book Review
“Strout dwells with uncanny immediacy inside the minds and hearts of a dazzling range of ages: the young (with their confusion, wonder, awakening sexuality), the middle-aged (envy, striving, compromise), the old (failing bodies, societal shunning, late revelations). . . . I have long and deeply admired all of Strout’s work, but Olive, Again transcends and triumphs. The naked pain, dignity, wit and courage these stories consistently embody fill us with a steady, wrought comfort.”—The Washington Post
“In thirteen poignant interconnected stories, Strout follows the cantankerous, truth-telling Mainer as she ages, experiencing a joyful second marriage and the evolution of her difficult relationship with her son. In her blunt yet compassionate way, Olive grapples with loneliness, infidelity, mortality and the question of whether we can ever really know someone—ourselves included.”—People (Book of the Week)
“A magnificent achievement on its own terms . . . We see Olive acquiring a view of herself, and coming to recognize as valuable the other people who grant that vision. In the process, she shares in the alchemy that she continues to perform for us and elicits our unexpected, abiding love.”—The Boston Globe
“Strout has created one of those rare characters . . . so vivid and humorous that they seem to take on a life independent of the story framing them.”—The Guardian
“The lovable, irascible Olive Kitteridge is back. . . . In this novel—set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Maine, ravaged by opioid addiction and economic neglect—Strout wields great pathos out of life and all its attendant tragedies.”—BuzzFeed
“Strout aims the spotlight on her wry heroine and the characters of Crosby, Maine, in another book that’s sure to have you flipping pages long into the night.”—Bustle
“Olive, Again returns to Olive and the town of Crosby to do what Strout does best: find meaning in the tiniest and most mundane details of everyday life.”—Vox
“Strout has said that she doesn’t know why readers like Olive so much, except that she is complicated, like all of us. But I think we all have had an Olive in our lives whom we never got to know. Mine was a teacher named Gertrude. It is Strout’s genius to reveal them to us in all their idiosyncratic glory. Olive, again? Oh yes, I do think so.”—Ann Treneman, The Times (UK)
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The success of the book and HBO series rests on Strout’s perfectly imperfect character, Olive. She is entirely unique and readers have a variety of reactions to her, mostly contradictory because she is. She is hard-nosed somewhat stereo-typically a cold north easterner, judgmental and blunt. She is also compassionate, sarcastically witty, and loyal. I’ve always thought that it would be difficult to be friends with Olive, but worth it.
“Olive, Again”, like its predecessor (and like the two “Lucy Barton” novels Strout has penned in the interim), is a collection of inter-related stories about the denizens of Crosby, Maine, particularly in relation to Olive Kitterage. We meet some familiar characters, but also a few new ones. There is a disturbing story of a young girl who cleans houses and a strange relationship that follows. I was especially touched by the continuation of a story from the first book that relates a poignant conversation between the sister of a murderer and her parent’s lawyer as she returns to Crosby and her memories of growing up there. Evidence of Olive growing as an individual is in a piece where she visits a former pupil who has cancer. I loved these conversations so much because Olive reveals a lot about her marriages. Plus, it’s quite funny! Happily, one section brings us up to date on the Burgess boys - another of Strout's novels!
I didn’t think of this eleven years ago when I first “met” Olive, but this re-acquaintance has made wonder if Olive is on the “autism spectrum”. Is she ignoring social cues, or is she missing them? Is her bluntness and thoughtless disregard for “niceties” because she doesn’t understand the need for them? Several times she does show empathy and concern for others’ feelings, but these episodes seem to come as a shock to even her. In any case, Strout beautifully “grows” Olive in this wonderful new novel. I knew I needed more Olive and I am thankful that Strout did, too!
It’s a fast read even though I tried to slow down and savor it! Strout is such a wonderful writer, Frances McDormand is such a wonderful actress, let’s hope another HBO series is in the works!
Witness the sleepy little town of Crosby, Maine, where Olive Kittredge, now in her seventies and widowed but for forty years before that a teacher of junior high math –she still encounters past students in the stores, restaurants and streets of Crosby. She meets a man named Jack, a retired Harvard professor, arrogant, even snobbish in his manner. He’d been shoved out of Harvard after he was charged with sexual harassment over an affair with a young colleague in his department. He’s a widower now too, riven with guilt for having cheated on his wife and shame over his public humiliation. In his prime, he was a young god but those days are far behind now: he’s overweight now, has a puffy round stomach that shames him, but then, so do his memories. Somehow, one time only, Olive and he wind up in bed together, not sex, but a relationship. And then she’d left and when he tried to get in touch with her, she didn’t respond.
So to the first story, “Arrested”, in this set of separate but interconnected stories that collectively weave together into a novel about that strange but wonderful old woman, Olive Kittredge. But not just about her. Rather, they’re about her universe, the odd collection of people in and around Crosby who give meaning (and sometimes lack of meaning) to her life, as does she to theirs. It’s a wondrous way to craft a novel, “us/them”-=centered as much as “me.”
The story! Jack’s having a bad day. He called to apologize to his daughter Cassie for the way he’d treated her for years: she’s lesbian and he’d never accepted that. The call didn’t go badly. It just didn’t go well. So he stops at the Regency Hotel bar to hoist a few and when he pulls away from the bar he’s pulled over by the police for driving too fast and having an overdue inspection certificate. He complicates matters by his attitude toward the police but finally he’s allowed to drive off –shamed again. But for what? The present events or his past offenses? His past drives his present. He sends an email to an old beau of his deceased wife to let him know she had died and when the man responds, finds that his wife had been having her own affair while he’d been having his. He has no reason to think that Olive Kittredge would want to get in touch with him again but he decides to try again, this time by letter.
It’s three stories later before Olive’s front and forward in a story, but she pops up in different ways in between. In “Labor,” she goes to a baby shower and ends up delivering a baby in the back seat of her car. (It’s messy.) That leads to a conversation with Jack again and the start of what will be her second great relationship, ending in eight years of marriage with him. She’s peripheral in “Cleaning,” which is about a young, poor woman and her awful life cleaning for stuck up prigs. But she’s there.
“Motherless Child” is one of the pivots of this extraordinary glimpses into people’s inner lives in this on the surface idyllic little Maine town. It’s about a visit: Olive’s son Christopher, his wife, Anne, and their four children, two older and two very young, visiting from New York City where they live conveniently far away from Christopher’s mother. The visit is a disaster and when Olive tells her son that she is going to get married again, to Jack, a Vesuvius of a disaster. Then Anne snaps at her husband, tells him to man up, and Olive has an epiphany: Christopher has married his mother because Olive behaved toward him the same way when he was young. She was not a patient mom. And now her son is locked in the same dynamic with his wife.
I’m not going to go through all the stories in this collection. There are nine more! But all are about the same thing, though in different ways: the past always has hooks in us and we don’t really know what or who we are, we just move along, trying our best but buffeted by our feelings and the pressure of events. The end result is often not pretty or tidy. It just is.
By the end, Olive is eighty-three or eighty-four, which is my age or a year older. Jack’s long dead and her first husband, Henry, looms larger in her memories now. She almost died from a heart attack and can no longer drive after dark. She living in an assisted living facility where her relations with the other residents are, let’s say, not always easy. She’s finally contemplating death. She doesn’t want it but she knows it happens.
There is this marvelous passage one page before the end of this book: "[I]t was almost over, after all, her life. It swelled behind her like a sardine fishing net, all sorts of useless seaweed and broken bits of shells and the tiny, shining fish –all those hundreds of students she had taught, the girls and boys in high school she had passed in the corridor when she was a high school girl herself (many- most—would be dead by now), the billion streaks of emotion she’d had as she looked at sunrises, sunsets, the different hands of waitresses who had placed before her cups of coffee—All of it gone, or about to go."
That is glorious writing. Olive contemplates her life and goes back to writing. This is what she writes: “I do not have a clue who I have been. Truthfully, I do not understand a thing.”
But who does?
Top international reviews
This is not a linear story per se, it is just beautiful writing and storytelling. Olive almost seems to be on the autism spectrum because at times her interactions can be quite curt, she says what she thinks without really giving thought to how her words are received. She really struggles to filter her thoughts before she voices her opinion. Yet, she can also be reflective and can try so hard. She tries to re-connect with her son, who comes to stay with her for a few days, yet she doesn’t know really how to dive in and mend the fractured relationship. When she discovers, left behind, a small garment she had knitted for one her grandchildren she feels ‘terror’. She corrects how others speak. She is just who she is, plucky and direct and that rare fictional character, yes, an older woman! Love her or hate her, she is a memorable character. There is quiet humour, too and it is at times quite moving.
What really makes this novel work is the beautiful and stylish writing. Emotions are created with select, pertinent words brought together in a creative and fluid way. The author’s prose is just wonderful.
As spiky and annoying as Olive can be, it was great to see her find love again. She believes she was probably not a good mother to her son Christopher, but her regrets fade when she grows old and needs him and he is there for her, attentive and loving.
I waited months for for this book to appear and I read it in two days, but it was worth the wait. It has everything we have learned to expect from Elizabeth Strout, and more.