Sunday, June 21, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge is a gift, a gem. From the first sentences in this beautiful work, I was smitten, and from the last, deeply sorry for the stories to end. Elizabeth Strout took me to a vivid small town world filled with beautifully complicated, conflicted, real people and their intricate, multifaceted lives. In each poignant chapter, constantly shifting characters and perspective reveal rich human experiences and emotions, spanning all life’s stages, twists and turns, and prove how very hard it is to truly know another person, or yourself.

The author writes with beautifully reticent honesty as she shares these stories, collections of people’s secrets in the world as they choose to see it, and the parts of themselves they wish to show, or need to hide. Some stories sparkle, some startle, with characters ranging from broken or damaged, weary, lonely, fragile or desperate, to surprisingly tender, honest or strong, through love, loss or betrayal, with yearning and need strewn through their lives as randomly as the rocks along the coast.

The characters are so skillfully created that the more I came to know them, the more I wished to know and understand them, especially Olive. She is an enigma, and a perfect vantage point to view the town, and herself: from afar, from her imposing size to her brusque, often rude assessment of her former students or associates or family, her curt, weary, reluctant interaction with the world. Through Olives eyes, and the eyes of those who know her, the stories unfold to paint and unforgettable portrait of life, and of people painfully flawed and human.

I found the novel luminous, haunting and at times, profoundly sad, but true and touching and heartwarming. Olive Kitteridge has my highest recommendation, particularly and especially to book clubs, as there is so much to explore, and so much to learn from bringing our own perceptions and biases and stories into the discussion.