Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Emotional Set of Short Stories about Surviving Life--Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge"

Olive Kitteridge is a series of twelve short stories set in a small town in Maine. Each of the stories features Olive Kitteridge, a tempermental middle school math teacher. In half of the stories Olive is a main character, in the others she is a minor player, but all of the stories share a deep emotional core which captures the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Although the events in many of the stories are everyday--weddings, deaths, illnesses--the characters in each show rich humanity and deep emotion. As the stories loosely trace Olive through almost 40 years of her life, you find yourself liking this extremely unlikable woman, and enjoying following her journey through life. 

Elizabeth Strout does a fantastic job capturing all aspects of the human spirit in Olive Kitteridge. Her stories capture people's deepest emotions during trying times, and the pictures she creates are excellent. That being said, if you're a reader that needs to love the main character in a novel, this is not a book for you. Olive Kitteridge is a difficult person--tempermental, opinionated, and sometimes, just downright mean. But despite her faults, Olive's perspective on life is fascinating, and by the end of the novel, I found myself empathizing with her situation. As Olive encounters all sorts of challenges in her life she proceeds with purpose and a serious face, and nothing shakes her unique outlook on life. 

This was an excellent collection of short stories and I would recommend it to those who enjoy literary fiction. This is the first work by Elizabeth Strout that I've read, but it won't be my last.

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