PPRL: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (winner, 2009)

To those of you who were interested in joining me in the Pulitzer Prize Reading List Challenge back before I dropped the ball, I'm starting it back up again with simpler, looser terms (basically, you decide when you want to finish, then read the list in the order you want; I'll just add your name to the challenge page, and we'll be in it together, but at our own paces). Details are here, but I'll drop those of you who had reached out a line today or tomorrow to see if you're still in. Sorry again for having neglected this!

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Synopsis

Retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge is the common denominator (at varying degrees of remove) in the lives of several townspeople in modern day Crosby, Maine. As her own story unfolds and she struggles to come to terms with her own long-fought (or long-suppressed) demons, she moves simultaneously through the lives of her neighbors, bringing with her as she does variously kindness or cruelty, grace or disgust, anger or love.

My Thoughts

There are thirteen chapters in the book. Thirteen times, I found myself reeled in immediately, captivated by these interlacing stories; I absolutely loved this novel. The prose is simple and clean, and the characters wonderfully, tragically relatable. The construction and pacing of the novel itself is brilliant: building in intensity, then waning, then ratcheting back up to the final, heartbreaking chapters. Olive is an extremely compelling protagonist: terrifying, pitiable, admirable, lovable, and just plain fascinating. I could have happily followed her for another thirteen chapters.

Selected Excerpts

Walking back to his car at the marina on those mornings, he was sometimes surprised to feel that the earth was altered, the crisp air a nice thing to move through, the rustle of the oak leaves like a murmuring friend. For the first time in years he thought about God, who seemed a piggy bank Harmon had stuck up on a shelf and had now brought down to look at with a new considering eye.

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What young people didn't know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn't choose it. 

Werds I Lerned (Or Had Fergotten)

digitalis - the dried leaves of the foxglove, used in medicine as a heart stimulant
rugosa - a widely cultivated Southeast Asian rose, with dark green wrinkled leaves and deep pink flowers
impatiens - a plant having irregular flowers in which the calyx and corolla are not clearly distinguishable and bearing fruits that burst open to scatter the seeds
hackmatack - an American larch of the pine family 
glial - the delicate web of connective tissue that surrounds and supports nerve cells
asseverate - to assert or declare emphatically or solemnly
grange - a farm, with its farmhouse and nearby buildings

Next Up

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo