As she did with her character Lucy Barton in Anything Is Possible, Elizabeth Strout returns to one of her characters through a series of short stories. Olive Kitteridge is present to one degree or another in the various stories. Sometimes she is the central character; in others, she is barely mentioned. The first story, Arrested, Jack Kennison drives to another town an hour away to shop just so he won’t bump into Olive whom he barely knows..
Reading this first story I knew I was in for some great Elizabeth Strout storytelling. In superlative short story telling, we follow Jack through a day’s interactions and learn about his relationships and his past and feel compassion for him. He shows up again throughout the book. Even though he wanted to skip seeing Olive at the local store, he later appreciates her approach to life:
People either didn’t know how they felt about something or they chose never to say how they really felt about something. And this is why he missed Olive Kitteridge. [p 8]
Loneliness is the predominant theme of the book. Olive slowly begins to understand that relationships are the way to fight the terror of loneliness. She looks back on her relationship with her son, Christopher, and her dead husband Henry. In her new relationship,
Olive would put her leg over both of his, she would put her head on his chest, and during the night they would shift, but always there were holding each other, and [he] thought of their large old bodies, shipwrecked, thrown up upon the shore – and how they held on for dear life! [p 148]
Olive grows so much in this book and that gained knowledge can have a sharp edge.
Loneliness, Oh, the loneliness! It blistered Olive. She had not known such a feeling her entire life; this is what she though as she moved about the house. It may have been the terror finally wearing off and giving way for this gaping bright universe of loneliness that she faced, but it bewildered her to feel this. [p 260]
We also get to revisit some of Strout’s other characters: the Burgess boys as well as Isabelle from the novels with their names.
Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors and this book does not disappoint. But don’t pick this up to read until you have read Olive Kitteridge.