(Elizabeth Strout appeared on campus January 26, as part of the annual Literary Festival. In 2009 she was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge (2008), a collection of connected short stories about a woman and her immediate family and friends on the coast of Maine.)
Reviewed by Gerald Dierkes
Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge may remind readers of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, in which the author presents a look beneath the surface, so to speak, of a small Midwestern town’s residents, emphasizing the “grotesque” elements of their private lives.
Olive Kitteridge, similarly, focuses on a small New England town, in this case, a community in which its members know, or know of, everyone else in their town. Each story features the hidden elements of a different individual, family or similar group of townspeople.
The story’s voyeuristic quality may embarrass some readers as details about the characters’ personal lives and private thoughts are revealed. Other readers, however, may take a prurient interest in such details. Would some readers, after reading about the characters’ misfortunes and misdeeds, experience a boost in self esteem, feeling superior to Strout’s characters? Or might some readers, by comparison, gain some relief from their knowledge of their own misfortunes and misdeeds?
Regardless of the reasons for the book’s appeal, Elizabeth Strout skillfully takes readers from one character to the next, sometimes forward or backward through time, illustrating the connections among her characters and never losing the reader in the process.
Share your perceptions of Olive Kitteridge. Would you recommend the book to others?