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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Highly Recommended: "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge is a jewel of a book. In each of this novel's 13 chapters, author Elizabeth Strout tells a story about people living in a small town in Maine. Appearing in each chapter, sometimes as the central figure and other times in just a cameo role, is Olive Kitteridge. Olive is a school teacher, although in much of the book she is retired. But having held that job makes her a character that knows many people in her small hometown, and makes her known to many.

What a lot of these people know about Olive is that she is at times unpleasant. How, they wonder, can her husband Henry stand being married to her? Strout's outstanding writing and brilliant organization of this book shows how their marriage is woven together and why she is someone Henry could love and that we grow to like.

Other characters also grapple with the twists and turns of marriage or of having not married. Grim matters that arise in a life - loneliness, insecurity, unpleasant surprises, death - all make an appearance but the book is not over worked or overly sentimental. Instead, events are vivid. Strout creates people who look ordinary, who even seem flat on the exterior, and then reveals an amazingly clear picture of their interior life as they try and cope with new information and circumstances. These portraits really shine, which is what makes Olive Kitteridge a jewel.

For more information about Olive Kitteridge, check out Melissa Bank's positive review of the book on NPR's You Must Read This.