I chose to read this book because I had the idea that I wanted to read a book that had won the most recent Pulitzer Prize. At the time, the most recent was 2009′s fiction winner Olive Kitteridge. I wanted to see what was considered great fiction these days.
When I first cracked open the novel my first thought was, “Oh, no, this is going to be a very boring book.’
And now, having just finished it, I wish it had never ended.
Strout uses a collection of short stories all set in the small town of Crosby, Maine centered around a woman named Olive Kitteridge. The stories take on alternating points of view, and often Olive is merely walking past the narrator for a second. It’s in this way that we receive varying opinions and memories of Olive, while also receiving a whole other world and narrative. We learn not only about Olive and various other townspeople, but about the town itself.
The novel not only jumps narrators, but it jumps through time as well. While we aren’t given a from childhood to death timeline of any of the characters, we are still given a view of how they grow over a span of ten, fifteen, twenty years.
Olive is a surly no-nonsense retired school teacher with a steadfast and doting husband whom she loves but takes for granted. We see them interact with each other and their son, Christopher, while never being capable of really picking sides when they have conflict. Strout beautifully weaves the stories so that each character is entirely sympathetic regardless of their personality faults or mistakes.
While not focused on Olive, we learn of a young girl dying of anorexia, a lounge piano singer, and many others. Certain places, like a doughnut shop, surface as settings in many of the stories.
Details aside, I can say that this novel is a story about what it is to get old- what it is to lose loved ones and to gain perspectives on life and love. The amount of love and tenderness in this novel is so natural and touching, not cheesy and cliché as some novels often are.
Some of the characters are more distinct than others which sometimes come across a little washed out, or too similar to another character. Also most of the chapters re-set scene and history too much because Strout, I’m sure, wrote it so that the stories could be easily separated. While I understand that tactic it makes it slightly annoying. I was often thinking, “yeah, I know all this already I’ve been reading the novel!”
But that’s easy to get around as she doesn’t over do it too much.
All in all, it was a very touching read with a lot of sadness. Though it has its down moments, I finished the novel feeling hopeful, not morose.