Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Reviewed by The Oprah Magazine & winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel from 2008 can be summed up as a stroll through the boring daily lives of entwined characters in a small town.
The idea of using narratives on many characters & family dynamics to create the sense of community or hidden connections in the town is… well, once originally creative but is now overdone.
There was not a strong plot for the different families to hint at & some could have been removed if the family is not referenced later on or used in the story. It obviously focuses on Olive Kitteridge & husband Henry Kitteridge – spanning from when their son is a young boy to his late 30s. Reviews say they couple has a “complex marriage” – but who doesn’t?!? I felt Henry was a complacent man simply putting up with his hard & moody wife so it was no surprise he sought out companionship & care from another woman. The relationship between Olive & her son is later revealed once the son is older & is in therapy. But none of these relationships gave new insights or seemed “soooo complicated” to me.
I felt the time line was too long for one book and the author could have built more into the narratives on how all the families change or reconnect over the years- not just focused on the Kitteridges’ predictable & common lifestyle.
There is a sequel to continue into Olive’s elderly life (I believe she’s in her 70s) but with so many narratives I came away conflicted thinking “I still feel I don’t fully know Olive- some family stories gave insight but I’m still guessing at her character & values.” But also “other family descriptions kept me reading even if they weren’t important- or I would’ve been bored with only Olive’s daily routines”.
I suppose it won the prize not for an astounding plot or new way to develop characters – but based on writing style and forcing readers to read between the lines. Just wasn’t impressed. There were few sentences or pieces that stood out to me as “rare impressive writing” & the small town vibe is annoyingly overdone.
With plenty of pleasant easy reads out there with making daily life, little family gossip, & changing community friendships – I wouldn’t suggest this one stands out in any stellar way.
I noticed they’ve made a tv series on it – maybe watching it play out and added action/drama from screenwriters would be a better format for this tale.