Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Olive Oil and Water

'Olive Kitteridge'
By Elizabeth Strout

Format: Paperback
Published: Random House; Sept. 2008
Pages: 304

Synopsis: Thirteen linked tales from Strout present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection. Strout's fiction showcases her ability to reveal through familiar details—the mother-of-the-groom's wedding dress, a grandmother's disapproving observations of how her grandchildren are raised—the seeds of tragedy. Themes of suicide, depression, bad communication, aging and love, run through these stories. 

My Take: I read this book solely because it won the Pulitzer Prize. I am not sure I've ever done that before. I think when I picked it up I thought it would be 'Fiction', as in a story all told, say about Olive Kitteridge the woman the story is named after. Believe me, there were plenty of reviews around the blogosphere, and while I am an avid reader of reviews, I'll admit to skimming them if it's a book I haven't read yet and know I want to read to make sure nothing major is spoiled for me just to make sure a blogger liked it or didn't and it seemed overall people liked it. What I failed to notice is that overall this seemed to be more short-story than a novel. I would have liked to have known that. I'll have to read closer next time! The reason I would have liked to have known that is because I don't really like short stories, however it's good for me to brake my mold every once in a while and so I did.

The common theme in this book is Olive. I can't say whether I liked her or not. Basically she would appear as the main character in the story about every other chapter and just appear in the story in the others, does that make sense? It all takes place in a small town in Maine and I generally like books set in small towns because you can really get a feel for the characters, this was no exception. I particularly liked Olive's husband Henry. Henry was really sweet and friendly to everyone in town. Olive, however was not. She was much more abrasive. She taught at the local school so she touched most people's lives in this small town. Olive and Henry had an only child Christopher and some of the stories also revolved around him and his life.

The stories that didn't directly include their family would take place with the other townspeople and would have some sort of super sad or dramatic event. Basically if you are looking for a nice, uplifting read this is not it. This was probably my main problem with the book. I get it, life is hard. Believe me I know this. But this book really kind of shoved it down my throat. Olive had a hard time letting people into her life throughout and it made for a difficult read for me. Not that I didn't understand Olive, just that I could see why you wouldn't want to be her friend.

I don't know why this beat out every other book the year it won but that's cool, I don't often agree with award winning book choices but I do often feel like they broaden my reading horizons and that's often the bigger point.

(I got this book from PBS)


  1. hmm.. interesting book. i may up this book to broaden my horizon too. i'm trying to read new things that i don't normally read to see if i like it or not.

  2. I read this book a few months ago and I was kind of torn on it. I really liked the way the book was set up, quite unique. I didn't really love Olive though.

  3. I really enjoyed the audio version --in 2009.

  4. I read this book for my book club and I was also surprised to know it was short stories. Overall, it was okay for me. I actually really liked the stories that dealt more completely with Olive, but some of the stories, particularly near the end, didn't really do much for me. I did like Strout's writing style, and I hope to read more of her fiction in the future.

  5. I didn't realize it was short stories, either, so I was a bit confused for awhile. I ended up liking it (but not Olive) though.

  6. I also didn't realize from any of the reviews I have read that this book is a collection of interlinked stories. Thanks for the warning. While I will still read the book I like to know what to expect.

  7. Thank you for explaining what the book was about. I probably only read one or two main stream, award winning fictions each year. I do it for the same reason you do: broaden my reading horizons and see if there is a new author/genre that would appeal to me :)

  8. toothybooks - I agree: It's always good to broaden our reading horizons!

    Autumn - Yes the book flowed well for me too but Olive was a tough character to love!

    Bibliophile by the Sea - Good to know!

    Nomadreader - this would be a good book club choice. I agree that toward the end the stories didn't work as well for me either.

    Softdrink - Yes! Why didn't anyone mention the short story thing to us :)

    Kathleen - I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of it when you read it!

    Felicia - Anytime! I like to read award winning books for the same reason - see if I'm missing something!


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