Thursday, November 21, 2019

Elizabeth Strout's Olive, Again: Reproducing the Special Magic

When I first picked up Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout's novel's 2008 book of interwoven short stories that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, I had never heard of the book. It just caught my attention. I not only enjoyed reading about Olive; I believe I know her. She reminds me so much of a former colleague who intimidated me before I was able to see past the crusty facade to the tender heart and the wicked sense of humor underneath.

This new book follows the successful pattern of the first: a series of short stories set in the same small town of Crosby, Maine, with road trips to nearby towns. Olive Kitteridge is the thread that ties the stories together, even though in some she appears only as a minor character. Two women in one story, for example, cross paths with her in an art gallery. Sometimes the characters have been students in her classroom before she retired.

In this collection, Olive's curious romance with Jack Kennison picks up from the first book, following the death of her first husband. Her son and his complicated family make more of an appearance in this novel, which covers a longer span of time than the first.

Some of the stories may make readers squirm a little. Sometimes Olive's quirky behavior makes me wish I could give her some tips on social skills. But in the end, I found her the same believable, sympathetic character who had grown on me the first go around. Olive faces old age, first in the friends she sees making their way to the nursing home she finds so distasteful. She has to deal with the realization that she no longer needs to drive--and Olive is not a woman to give up her independence easily.

I'm realistic enough to know Strout probably won't be able to give readers another book about Olive, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on her life just a little longer. I'm eager to see which character Strout brings to life next.