Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It's Olive's Fault
The last book that I read by Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle, was not one of my favorites. Amy and Isabelle is the story of a woman who became a mom as a teenager, and her struggles to raise her daughter, and keep her from also becoming a teenage mother. The mom, Isabelle, is hard to like, but I would have liked her a lot more if Strout had done a better job of reminding me that Isabelle was only 33 or 34 while she was trying to deal with her 16 year old daughter. So that one is Strout's fault.
Olive Kitteridge, also by Strout, came out to great fanfare, and even won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. I liked the idea of several short stories all set in Maine, and all tied together by one person, Olive Kitteridge, who plays lead, supporting, or cameo roles in each story. So, I decided to give Strout another try.
Like Isabelle, Olive is a very hard person to like. She is abrasive and hostile to those closest to her, but reveals a tender side to virtual strangers. As her husband, Henry, says, she does not ever apologize. This seems to be because she feels deep within her being that she is always right. She is also quick to lay the blame on others for her problems, always saying that what is wrong is someone else's fault.
So, if you are in the mood for a cheerful tale, this is not it. But if you are preparing to go home for the holidays, and dreading dealing with your mother or mother in law, Olive Kitteridge might be the book for you. After reading about Olive, your family members will look kind and thoughtful.
As for me, I'm done with Elizabeth Strout. I think she'll muddle along without me.
Post Script: After sleeping on this post, I have to concede that Olive Kitteridge is not a bad book. It is interesting how you learn about each character through the eyes of the others, and the differences in character that each shows when with their own family versus when they are with acquaintances. Additionally, there is light at the end of the tunnel, in that the book ends optimistically, with the hope for change and growth. Olive's son, Christopher, is a more resilient character than he first appears, and while she only admits it grudgingly, Olive does learn from him. I appreciate that Christopher does not allow himself to be damaged by his past, but instead works toward a better future. But I still think I'm done with Elizabeth Strout.
Next Up on CD: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Still Reading: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin