Saturday, July 24, 2010

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

I read this on the recommendation of a fellow A.P. English teacher who likened it to a modern-day version of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. I remember enjoying Anderson back in college, so I figured I'd give this book a whirl. It did NOT disappoint!

Strout's book is a collection of basically thirteen short stories, all pertaining to various residents of the small town of Crosby, Maine and all connected somehow by the titular character. Olive is a retired middle-school mathematics teacher, a big woman who loves her Dunkin' Donuts and speaking her mind plainly, and throughout the collection of stories we see Olive and a cast of others going about the activities of life: attending weddings and funerals, working unfulfilling jobs, engaging with soul mates, fretting over in-laws, fending regrets. Olive is the unifying element within each story, since most of the stories focus on other characters or families ... but by book's end you get a poignant portrait of this woman as she -- like all of us -- attempts to make sense of this thing called Life.

Olive Kitteridge is in beautifully written prose, yet I cannot help but wonder if a high school kid will really "get" what makes these characters work. In much the same way I tried to teach Dickens's A Christmas Carol a few years ago and learned, by the end, that the reason why I was the only one with tears in his eyes was because I, unlike the average seventeen-year-old, had actually lived life long enough to have regrets -- in this way, I doubt my students will really understand what makes these characters work. Nevertheless, each story is an outstanding exercise in characterization, so it's definitely worth a try.

Enjoy reading Olive Kitteridge!

1 comment:

James said...

Winesburg, Ohio is high on my list of favorite books. It is notable for me as I found it got better on rereading (as do all good books). If Olive Kitteridge is close to as good I will have to put it on my back list. Thanks for the recommendation.