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Editorial Reviews

Tart, sorrowful Olive Kitteridge is the moody battle-ax intersecting each of Elizabeth Strout's exquisitely spare new "novel in stories". Imperfect and struggling, Strout's characters grind through the dulling routines of ordinary domestic life in churchgoing Crosby, Maine: the drudgery of fixing supper night after night or shivering through a lukewarm show. They are awkward but authentic. "Patrick McCarthy...perspired so much that splotches of his shirt would be wet, at times even down over his breasts, so the poor fellow looked to be lactating," observes Strout.
Olive is a retired math teacher with the habit of saying "these weird things, very powerfully", which agitates her students, natch. Henry, her husband, is a gentle pharmacist who dispenses "pills and syrups and syringes" yet cannot cure his own wife's destructive eruptions. Their melancholy son, Christopher, grows into a distant teenager then a brittle adult. He inherits his mother's tormented relationship with depression.
Olive and Henry don't anchor all 13 tales. Points of view shift, revealing a wistful lounge singer and the 11-year-old daughter of a cracked former beauty queen among them. Narrator Sandra Burr mostly nails the flat, dawdling Down East accent ("ayuh") of coastal Maine. She refines Olive's bluster by pitching her voice low and slow and growly, thus hinting at the despondency behind Olive's attacks. As for ponderous Henry, Burr permeates his dialogue with apologetic throat-clearings to channel how "inwardly, he suffered the quiet trepidations of a man who had witnessed twice in childhood the nervous breakdowns of a mother".
Burr isn't showy about her extraordinary range, though she easily could be. Olive Kitteridge thrives largely because she invests each character with distinguishable emotions. Nina White, anorexic and wasting into bones, begins all zippy teen inflection and finishes in subdued, unlit tones. Burr embodies Kevin, a young psychiatrist revisiting his mother's suicide, with the raw rasp of a hurting dude. The single misstep Burr makes in an otherwise faultless audio rendering is oozing too much buttery lilt as Jane, a housewife who kicks up her 75-year-old husband's adulterous betrayal in the midst of revived marital bliss.
Strout chronicles love, loss, infidelity, and aging within the cyclical framework of time passing. Christopher divorces, remarries, and fathers a child. Henry suffers a massive stroke, becomes paralyzed, then dies. Olive shows herself to be capable of deep kindness and vulnerability. When zonked by an unexpected romance with a widower while still grieving Henry, 74-year-old Olive puzzles, "Here they were...two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union - what pieces life took out you." And, with that, Olive Kitteridge's redemption becomes a fait accompli. —Nita Rao
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2009
At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer's eyes, it's in essence the whole world. The lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human dramas: desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life - sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition - its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
©2008 Elizabeth Strout (P)2008 Brilliance Audio
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Sara on 07-21-14

Interweaving Short Stories Make a Good Novel

Insightfully written short stories weave together to make a fascinating picture of one woman and a variety of people living in a small town in costal Maine. Haunting, sad, mysterious and sometimes hopeful. This resulting novel makes you stop and think. Heart breaking one minute and funny the next. Definitely one of the best character studies I've read in years. The narrator, Sandra Burr handles the accents well and keeps the pace of the reading upbeat and engaging. Listening is like piecing together a puzzle as each story adds another angle or bit of information. Worth the effort.

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61 of 63 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By BeckyC on 05-15-08

Absorbing collection of linked stories

These short stories, which collectively form a meditation on aging and connection (or disconnection) and love, are linked by shared characters (especially Olive Kittredge, who appears in all of them). They are set in a small town in Maine, and at times you can feel the salt in the air. Some of the characters are more compelling than others, but Olive is the most memorable: complicated and frustrating and ultimately wise and appealing. This is not a novel but rather a "novel in stories," a format that turns out to feel very different from a novel. In some ways it's the best of both worlds: you experience the vignettes, the moments in time, that constitute the modern short story--but also have some sense of the wider context in which these episodes are occurring.

The reading was generally good, though I did feel annoyed by the slow, halting Maine (?) cadence that the narrator used with some characters. I noticed it less over time, fortunately.

If you like modern short stories of the New Yorker type but also like more meaty novels, I'd recommend this book. I don't think I'll be forgetting the character of Olive anytime soon, and I'm grateful to have known her in the (audible) pages of this book.

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73 of 78 people found this review helpful

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