Olive Kitteridge, how I love you. And here are some of the reasons why:
♦ Some might argue that love isn’t the right word to use in respect to Olive Kitteridge, but I am here to say that it is. Yes, she can be cantankerous and stern, but she can also be tender and kind. She is flawed, but she is vulnerable and real, and I love that about her. She reminds me of Moses Sweetland and Hagar Shipley, both characters that I loved.
I like what Kay says in her review: “With neighbours and strangers, Olive says exactly the right thing in a difficult moment, and with her loved ones exactly the wrong thing.”
♦ Olive has lived a hard life, and even though she believes in moving forward, she has a hard time letting people get close to her. She has a husband who sees the goodness in her, but she still keeps him at a distance. Even her own son, who she desperately loves, she keeps at a distance and then feels hurt when he does the same to her.
He wanted to put his arms around her, but she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away.
… deep down there is a thing inside me, and sometimes it swells up like the head of a squid and shoots blackness through me. I haven’t wanted to be this way, but so help me, I have loved my son.
♦ The book is made up of a collection of linked stories which allows us to see Olive from other perspectives, but also the community she lives in and the people who live around her; like snapshots of a life at different stages and angles. Olive is not always at the centre of the stories; sometimes she is just a neighbour helping out, or the teacher of one of the children. I found this approach gave Olive’s story even more depth. Putting everything together this way, we get a broader view of her life; how others see her as well as how she sees herself.
I always remember she said one day, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.”
People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.
♦ Olive’s husband, Henry. He is a kind and gentle man who puts up with her sharp tongue, rough parenting style, and swearing. On the one hand, I felt bad for him and wondered how they ended up together, and on the other hand I was glad that she had him as a husband. I would love to read more about their history and their marriage, although I suspect it would end up breaking my heart.
Oh God, yes, she was glad she’d never left Henry. She’d never had a friend as loyal, as kind, as her husband. And yet, standing behind her son, waiting for the traffic light to change, she remembered how in the midst of it all there had been times when she’d felt a loneliness so deep that once, not so many years ago, having a cavity filled, the dentist’s gentle turning of her chin with his soft fingers had felt to her like a tender kindness of almost excruciating depth, and she had swallowed with a groan of longing, tears springing to her eyes.
♦ There is a lot of heartbreak in this book and in this town. But there are also many tender moments. We get glimpses of Olive’s own tenderness when she takes care of Henry after his stroke; speaking to him even though there is no indication that he can hear her.Or when she helps to ease the pain of a recently widowed woman by listening to her stories. Just enough to let you know how big her heart really is. Big, but not always full. I wanted to fill it up for her, since she can’t seem to do it for herself.
She knows that loneliness can kill people – in different ways can actually make you die. Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.
I loved everything about this book: the structure, the characters, the portrait of a marriage, the workings of a small town, Olive’s biting comments, her regrets, her inner dialogue, and her big lonely heart. The stuff of life.
[Elizabeth Strout]: I would hope that my readers feel a sense of awe at the quality of human endurance, at the endurance of love in the face of a variety of difficulties; that the quotidian life is not always easy, and is something worthy of respect. I would also hope that readers receive a larger understanding, or a different understanding, of what it means to be human, than they might have had before. We suffer from being quick to judge, quick to make excuses for ourselves and others, and I would like the reader to feel that we are all, more or less, in a similar state as we love and disappoint one another, and that we try, most of us, as best we can, and that to fail and succeed is what we do.
Other novels by Elizabeth Strout that I have to look forward to: My Name Is Lucy Barton, Abide With Me, The Burgess Boys, and Amy and Isabelle. Which ones have you read?