Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for February 2021.
Olive Kitteridge lives in the picturesque coastal town of Crosby, Maine. This is small town America where supposedly nothing ever happens, yet, through thirteen short stories Elizabeth Strout describes a whole community who live through events and situations that are all part of life. Some of the book club readers found the stories very sad and grim as there are recurrent themes of loneliness, depression and suicide. But don’t let that turn you off as there are also friendships, kindness and compassion and some great dialogue, especially from the droll and sarcastic Olive. There are very atmospheric descriptions of this coastal town bringing us through the seasons and years.
And so to Olive. She is a conundrum even unto herself. We meet her in the first story which is predominantly about her husband Henry Kitteridge, the local Pharmacist. Henry is an idealist and tends to see the world and people in a positive light. Olive on the other hand is a realist, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has no hesitation in saying so. Her son, Christopher, told her that she was the most feared teacher in the local High School where she taught Maths.
The thirteen stories span a time line of about thirty years and are not all about Olive, she weaves in and out of the ones about the other townsfolk of Crosby to a greater and lesser extent. There is the Piano Player, Angie O’Meara who plays in the local Hotel but can only perform in front of people when she is drunk, there’s Harmon and Daisy who find friendship and love late in life, even though Harmon is married. They try help a young anorexic girl called Nina that they encounter with Olives help. There are the Larkins who have locked themselves away after their son murdered a woman, their only outings are to the prison to visit him and then for groceries in the dark of night to the next town.
Through the stories we find out more about Olive and her character and come to some understanding as to why she is the way she is. It also takes Olive the thirty years to find out more about herself through some hard lessons and self-revelations and it is this growth of a person becoming more self-aware that is so interesting.
In the end Olive has become more tolerant and accepting of people and life without losing her very essence.
Olive, now a widow is asked by her new friend Jack Kennison, a recent widower “Give me a good reason to get up in the morning’? Olive replies “ Don’t have a clue, I’m waiting for the dog to die so I can shoot myself”. And that is Olive to a tea.
Dublin Unitarian Church