Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge: 10/21/2010

Olive KitteridgeReactions to Olive Kitteridge, the book and the character, seem to depend a great deal on the reader’s history. In our group, there were readers who were happy to spend time in the small town of Crosby, Maine; there were others for whom all stories set in small towns are horror stories. Olive is a complex and difficult character, deeply flawed, with flashes of tenderness.  One in our group called Olive “a monster”; another loved her for “the magnificent job” she did with the rotten hand she was dealt. The short story format appealed to some for the prism-like way it allowed us to come to know Olive and the people of Crosby.  Others would have preferred the story in novel form.  It is not a book for someone seeking a quick pace and page-turning plot!

We were in agreement as to the excellence of the writing and the powerful descriptions of the natural setting.  One reader pointed out the perfection of the first two stories, each of which can stand on its own.  Still, we wondered why this book was selected for the Pulitzer Prize.  According to the Pulitzer Prize website, Olive Kitteridge won in 2009 for “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”.  They describe the book as “a collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine that packs a cumulative emotional wallop, bound together by polished prose and by Olive, the title character, blunt, flawed and fascinating.”  Take a look at the Pulitzer site for more information, including the other finalists that year.