by Elizabeth Strout.
Strout won The Pulitzer Prize for her collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine. The Pulitzer judges commended her for work that “packs a cumulative emotional wallop” held together by the “blunt, flawed and fascinating” character of title character Olive.
Strout’s book was a finalist for this year’s National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.
“Hell. We’re always alone. Born alone. Die alone,” says Olive Kitteridge, redoubtable seventh-grade math teacher in Crosby, Maine. Anyone who gets in Olive’s way had better watch out, for she crashes unapologetically through life like an emotional storm trooper. She forces her husband, Henry, the town pharmacist, into tactical retreat; and she drives her beloved son, Christopher, across the country and into therapy. But appalling though Olive can be, Strout manages to make her deeply human and even sympathetic, as are all of the characters in this “novel in stories.” Covering a period of 30-odd years, most of the stories (several of which were previously published in the New Yorker and other magazines) feature Olive as their focus, but in some she is bit player or even a footnote while other characters take center stage to sort through their own fears and insecurities. Though loneliness and loss haunt these pages, Strout also supplies gentle humor and a nourishing dose of hope. People are sustained by the rhythms of ordinary life and the natural wonders of coastal Maine, and even Olive is sometimes caught off guard by life’s baffling beauty. Strout is also the author of the well-received Amy and Isabelle (1999) and Abide with Me (2006). –Mary Ellen Quinn
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