Title: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Book Beginnings quote:
Friday56 quote (from page 21, last page of preview):
Summary: With Olive, Again we re-meet Olive Kitteridge the cranky but somehow lovable character we met back in 2009 in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the same name. Both books are collection of stories set in a fictitious town in Maine. Olive Kitteridge is the main character but in many of the stories she is only a bit player, making at least a small appearance. The two quotes I shared today are good examples. The first story in the book is about Jack Kennison but Olive is on his mind, so much so he even writes her a note at the end of the chapter.
Review: Back in 2009 one of my book clubs read Oliver Kitteridge after it won the Pulitzer Prize. In my memory the majority of our conversation centered around whether we liked Olive or not. She is blunt, opinionated, a busy-body, and abrupt yet she is also capable of great kindnesses and making intuitive comments. In Olive, Again we meet Olive after the death of her husband Harry. She is lonely and yet finds time to visit people in the nursing home and is the only person to continually drop by and visit a woman who thinks she is dying from cancer when none of her good friends even call her. At one point in their conversation Olive confesses that she fears she was unkind to her husband and is trying to be a better person now. Strout seems to really understand people and is able to bring them to life on the pages of her books.
Here's the thing about Strout: Her characters endure some awful stuff — spousal abuse, parental neglect, the affronts of aging (including loss of independence and the need for adult diapers), blistering loneliness — but they're resilient. And if even harshly opinionated Olive can learn that a little compassion can change the picture, so can we. "What is your life like, Betty?" Olive asks a home health aide whose bumper sticker irks her. The question is key; it's the first step toward empathy. Olive, Again poignantly reminds us that empathy, a requirement for love, helps make life "not unhappy." (NPR)
Olive, Again is another book club selection (my other book club this time) and I fear we will once again discuss whether we like Olive or not. That may be open for debate but I don't think there will be any debate as to how we feel about Elizabeth Strout and her writing skills. She is a gem and she creates memorable and very real characters. My recommendation is to start with the original, Olive Kitteridge, before you read Olive, Again.