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R&R 049 | Olive Kitteridge

Edit: September 25th 2009. I have now added the full review to this post.

Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge
Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction
First published in: 2008; several parts of the book have been published in magazines before
This edition: first edition, Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster UK Ltd), 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7434-6772-8
Cover design: Simon & Schuster art department, L. Gardiner; cover photography: Corbis (front), Getty Images (back).

Never one to surrender to anything or anyone, Olive Kitteridge has a presence and unpredictability which cannot go unnoticed. Simply by being herself, she demands to be seen and heard.

In the sleepy coastal town of Crosby (Maine), the retired maths teacher struggles with getting older – the one thing she can't avoid. In thirteen chapters serving as thirteen interwoven stories, Olive's direct family and all sorts of Crosby inhabitants make an appearance as Olive throughout the years witnesses life-altering experiences and tragedies involving her loved ones, fellow townsfolk – and at times, herself.

The book kicks off with the story of Olive's husband Henry Kitteridge, who's trying to cope with his wife's blunt attitude as well as the growing affection he feels for a young collegue. Other stories touch on subjects such as anorexia, traumatizing experiences, loss, love affairs, broken relationships and second chances. In every story, there is Olive. Her impact on everyone's lives varies from her being a minor yet noticable nuisance… to her trying her hardest to save someone's life… to her being a traumatizing, overbearing parent.

Olive Kitteridge is a hurricane, blasting through this novel's pages, swirling through Crosby, Maine. But sometimes in that quiet coastal town, she is the eye of the storm; her compassion is a comfort, her presence a familiar part of everyone's lives, for better or for worse.

Olive is the perfect heroine because of her imperfections; she is so very human, so flawed and admirable at once. Olive reminds me a little of myself. Fiercely angry as I can be, loving and caring about others is what I am capable of just as much.

Elizabeth Strout has, in my opinion, rightfully been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this work, although at times there is some confusion. Strout has the tendency use of the same names for characters in different stories, but her clear writing and narrative skills both help to quickly separate one Patty from the next, to keep apart a second Kevin from his predecessor.

Strout balances the right amount of dialog and descriptive prose, using a suitable amount of humor to match the considerable tragedy described in each of the stories. The story which stands out most is "A Little Burst", in which Olive is found stealing her new daughter-in-law's clothing items and ruining a sweater in hopes of humbling her into insecurity. It was amusing and saddening at the same time.

Her style to me is reminiscent of Alice Sebold's writing, Sebold being an author who doesn't shy away from describing life's gruesome and dramatic events with such a blunt honesty, she makes reading about the most horrible situations bearable. Strout's greatest strength is to evoke different emotions in one single moment.

Olive Kitteridge. An accomplisment, this book. An unforgettable force, this character.

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The review (and extra photos) can also be found in the PDF version of 24 Hour Magazine.
24 Hour Magazine. One magazine from scratch to print in 24 hours. June 27th-June 28th 2009.

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R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009