Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review of Olive Kitteridge

I had high hopes for Olive Kitteridge when I picked it up. I'd heard about it for a while (although I'm not sure where or from whom), and had this idea that it was going to just blow me away (it won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction). It didn't, and there's probably a take-away lesson here about how I should ignore the 'winner' stickers on book covers.

Olive Kitteridge is actually a collection of 13 short stories bound together by the title character, who appears in each one. Olive is a larger-than-life character, with a strong, loud, and pushy personality. Like most abrasive people though, she uses her bravado to mask deep insecurities and repressed emotions. She is not at all sophisticated from either a physical or emotional perspective, and resents those who she doesn't understand or feels threatened by. But she cares deeply for people, and that is her one redeeming characteristic.

I understand why the book was so well-received: Strout is a very good writer who is able to capture the subtleties of emotion in her characters and the complexities of relationships. But there was always something at the end of each story that left me wanting -- perhaps this was Strout's intention -- the stories are all raw (and even bleak) in an attempt to realistically portray life in small-town Maine. But there was rarely any closure, and the emotional frustration or repressed anger was always still lingering when the story was over, which made it difficult for me to actually enjoy the experience of reading the book.


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