I tried to find the least cheesy version of this book cover as I could. And… this is it. I know, I know; it looks like a Jodi Picoult novel. But that little “winner of the Pulitzer Prize” sticker in the corner gives it cred, no? I’m sorry. This is not a beautiful-looking book.
That said, you should read it.
I just finished it today on the train, and felt this strange feeling of joy and hope. It was given to me by my boyfriend a few months ago because he said that the project I’m working on (linked short stories) and story style reminded me of this book. High praise, indeed! I’ve been lingering through it for months, feeling every emotion on every page. Slowing down, enmeshed in the sadness of each of the characters. It’s a series of short stories strung together by a town in Maine and one woman, the titular Olive Kitteridge. The way that Strout manages to weave the different characters together and make it all seem not only plausible but real is stunning. She manages to make that magic of putting to print vague feelings that I couldn’t ever articulate before. For example, this scene in the last story where Olive, a strong, no-nonsense elderly woman, tries to keep pace with her walking companion. Strout writes, “Olive had to walk slower, to match Jack’s ambling stride. It was hard, like not drinking water fast if you were thirsty.” Perhaps obvious and definitely not groundbreaking, but a sentiment that I’d never seen written out in such a simple, clear way.
I am person who is constantly slowing her stride.
But beyond that, the larger themes — family, children, aging, marriage — are themes that I haven’t yet had to deal with, but Strout makes them accessible and, well, a bit devastating. The slow decline of age, the loss of a husband or wife, the way children leave, and the way we imprint on others our own experiences and inclinations. We never really come to understand why Olive is the way that she is (her childhood and early adulthood are never discussed), but even without any of this information, we know Olive. She is a woman defined by her adult life and the choices she has made moreso than the people around her. Olive influences and refuses to be influenced.
Weirdly, this movie had me recall the movie I saw last weekend, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp — a British movie from the ’40s detailing the rise and fall of the stereotypical colonialist British officer. In that movie, he starts off as a young impetuous soldier and transforms over time (and two world wars) into an old man stuck in his ways dealing with the loss of his loves.
Both Olive Kitteridge and Colonel Blimp have had me thinking a lot about aging. When you are young, old people can seem invisible. Even if it’s merely through fiction, coming to face the timeline of a person seems miraculous, somehow. We are always living through the lens of the internet, a young hive mind where senior citizens are pushed aside. I have no conclusions about what this says, other than it happens, and it will probably always happen.
I digress. Olive Kitteridge is an excellent book that needs a better cover. Get it on your Kindle.