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Olive Kitteridge's beauty resides in the periphery of things

Posted on 09 March, 2020

Length

352 pages
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Original language

Elizabeth Strout’s novel resides in the periphery of things. Like Stoner by John Williams or Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Olive Kitteridge is not set in a big city; it does not recount great historical events or epochal changes. It is a collection of short stories linked by the figure of Olive, a strong, independent, and sometimes brutal woman (another example of the same narrative structure is A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan).

Wounds and hope

In the thoughtful style typical of Strout, the novel explores the difficulty of human relationships, the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations, and the wounds that cannot be healed. At the same time, through big and small moments of kindness and warmth – like one of Olive’s former students who throws himself into the sea to save a girl, or Olive’s attempt to hide a compromising secret at a funeral – Olive Kitteridge restores a sense of forgotten hope, that which comes from compassion and sacrifice.

Looking for gold in the mud

All the different stories focus on the figures of Olive, her husband, Henry, her son, Christopher, and the citizens of Crosby, Maine, the novel’s location. Olive is the central narrator, and it’s her voice that echoes in the reader’s mind even after the last page: it’s her point of view that, in the end, remains embedded in the memory. Olive’s sincerity-no-matter-what is upsetting at the beginning. Then her regrets about her husband and son, her belated awareness, and her late love story soothe our souls, teach us to look for gold dust in the river’s mud.

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