Olive Kitteridge is a patchwork of vignettes about a sharp, uncensored woman whose mercurial moods and inconsistent sensitivities impact (and shape) her husband, son, students, and neighbors in different ways. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, Elizabeth Strout crafts her novel in multiple points of view, sometimes catching Olive Kitteridge in nothing more than the peripheral vision of another character. Complicated and flawed, Olive stumbles toward self-discovery as she endures alienation from her son and--in other ways--from her gentle, peace-loving husband.
I am almost at a loss to try to describe the subtlety and skill Strout brought to the story. As unsympathetic as the protagonist often was, I felt wholly absorbed in the mindset, worldview, and emotions of Olive Kitteridge. The tight, limited third-person points of view provided deep, convincing emotional evidence for the authenticity of the entire cast of characters. This character-driven book was haunting, funny, irreverent, sometimes scathing, and ultimately hopeful. It was an appeal for mercy on all of us--limited, stumbling, puffed up, rag-tag-humanity. I felt twisty (amused and sometimes uncomfortable) from Strout's unrelenting emotional precision. (My sisters and I would say the author was "pushing on a bruise"--bringing deep, existing feelings into sharper relief).
The book is not long (a slim 270 pages), and I read it in a single, sleepy afternoon. It will stay with me for much longer. Highly, highly recommended.
Anybody curious about the requirements for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? See here.
Want to listen to a muy interesante 7-minute interview with Elizabeth and the (ever-interrupting) Charlie Rose? (Watch him tangle her up with his constant interjections during the "daughter" part). This particular interview is about Strout's debut novel, Amy and Isabelle. Check it.
Q for you: Olive Kitteridge is neither beautiful, nor well-liked, nor charming, nor accomplished. She is not a particularly sacrificial wife or doting mother. Her students, for the most part, are afraid of her. In a word--none of us would want to be her. And yet, I was drawn to her as if by magnetism. Do you have trouble identifying with an "unlikeable" protagonist? Does it depend on your mood?