Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

'Near novel' and 'story-cycle' are the terms I've heard used for books like Olive Kitteridge. It's a collection of connected short stories that, when taken together, form a novel. Elizabeth Strout's near novel is set in a small town on the coast of Maine. Her stories deal with the big things -- death and love -- as well as the small details of our existence.

Olive Kitteridge is the one constant character in these stories. I took a dislike to her in the first story and was uncertain about continuing the book as a result. I'm glad that I gave her another chance because I grew to appreciate this cranky, no-nonsense math teacher. In "Basket of Trips," Olive stands next to a woman named Molly as they both wait outside the church after a funeral. Molly says of the new widow, "Such a nice woman. It isn't right." Olive thinks this is a stupid thing to say. "Stupid -- this assumption people have, that things should somehow be right. But she finally answers, 'She's a nice woman, it's true.' "

In "A Little Burst," at her son's wedding, Olive thinks about the different perfumes women are wearing, "including one that all day has smelled like that bug spray Off!" I have smelled that very same perfume and wonder how anyone can find it attractive.

1 comment:

Lindy said...

I just listened to Michael Cart interviewing Margo Rabb about her near novel, Cures for Heartbreak. I've learned that this form is also called a short story cycle.