Saturday, February 27, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

I ended up enjoying Olive Kitteridge, but I must say it's not the best book to select for traveling across the country away from your husband for the week. Although it was more appropriate than The Pilot's Wife, which I also read on a plane traveling away from my husband.
Anyway, Olive Kitteridge is the Pulitzer Prize winner by Elizabeth Strout. It's a series of interconnected short stories. I must admit, my usual perception of short stories is that they are stories that aren't good enough to make into a whole novel or that the author is a bit lazy and just didn't feel like developing it. Clearly, there are exceptions, I enjoy reading Poe for example, and Shirley Jackson. So I realize I'm not being fair, but I still have a tendency to think that. I have an anthology of short stories that I don't even remember buying (I probably got it a library book sale) and have never read, so maybe I'll give them a try to beat down that perception for good.
Olive Kitteridge was a good selection for starting to change my mind about short stories. I enjoyed seeing different sides of certain characters and getting snapshots of life in this small town in Maine. And in reading the author interview in the back of my copy Strout points out that the reader needs breaks from Olive once and a while. The format was also nice for traveling because it was easy to stop at the end of a story during all the starts and stops you have while flying.
Why I say it was not the best choice for reading when I was traveling away from my husband is because it was rather depressing. You can't even count on your own family to be there for you when you're sick or dying. Olive worries about dying alone, and every time I see another statistic on how women live longer than men in the U.S. I worry about that too. And I felt like Strout cut down all of the solutions people turn to to avoid that fate. Olive's son moves away and never visits, friends die, volunteer work doesn't fulfill her the way it's supposed to. In all, I was left with a feeling that it's all hopeless and nothing matters. It just made me want to run to Ryan and give him a big hug and I couldn't do that because I was on a plane to San Diego. Fortunately, since I was on a place to San Diego, I at least had beautiful scenery to greet me and clear my mind instantly.
One last thing - Strout is a master at beautiful, lyrical language. That alone made it worth reading, and it reminded me a bit of Woolf in that sense. But, there were a few times where it was almost too much, and I would think, "Wow, she's really going for the Pulitzer with that paragraph!" Then it became a little distracting. But, overall I did think it was well written and I ended up really enjoying it.

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