Thursday, June 19, 2008

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Often the phenom of connected stories bugs me--it feels publisher induced--but in this case the book really is all the stronger for having the title character star in a number of stories and appear in the rest. And Strout has managed to pull off stories that all feel individual and complete and link them together in a way that doesn't feel like she should have just expanded the links to write a novel instead. These need to be separate stories because they don't all center on Olive--but her brief appearances in those other stories still add dimensions to her character as we keep reading the book.

Basically Olive is a bitch. But she's more a bitch to her husband and son than to everybody else in town. To them she is the old woman who was once the scary elementary school teacher who sometimes reached out to them in ways that really mattered. So we see her struggle--humanely, she's a bitch you feel for--in the stories that center on her life, but we also see how compassionate and strong and loving she can be to those around her. The fact that she can't sustain that behavior nor play it out for those closest to her feels tragic and real in a way that's effective.

There's something Alice Munro-ish about Strout's writing, so part of me feels like, well, we've still got Munro, do we need Strout? but I'm going to go with yeah, we do. The more Munros the merrier.

1 comment:

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