How could I have missed this book? Actually, the truth is, I didn't. I bought a paperback copy after hearing all my reading friends rave. But the print font was so darn tiny! It sat, neglected, by my bedside for many weeks. Then I needed a book to take along on an airplane trip and eyesight be damned! Olive Kitteridge it was.
And I loved everything about it. Now I'm foisting it on all my friends. My houseguest, Julie, stranded here when they closed the Baltimore airport, read it in two sittings. When my college pals gathered in Atlanta, all had our own strong opinions on The Help and shared them. We decided we needed another book, equally discussable. Olive Kitteridge got the nod.
I've been thinking a lot about believable heroines. Main characters you relate to from the beginning chapters of a novel. Even unappealing characters, if given a redeeming quality, can become someone who makes you continue to turn pages. Blake Snyder talks about this in Save the Cat!, his book on writing. A "save the cat" moment occurs when even the most unlikable point-of-view character does something to redeem himself, to make herself sympathetic to readers. I think Olive might be a bit like that. Elizabeth Strout does a terrific job of making Olive appealing despite her obvious foibles. At first, she's not particularly likable. But she displays humanity and vulnerability. So despite her being occasionally bothersome, frequently grumpy, way too opinionated, Olive has small moments of kindness and vulnerability, and we like her. Or, at least, are drawn to her.
Every time a friend comments on the book, she starts with the wedding chapter. Poor Olive Kitteridge! Dressed in that horrid mother-of-the-groom get-up. Hiding in a bedroom, eavesdropping, overcome, a true case of the vapors (were she Southern).
The book takes form in non-linear chapters,narratives linked by one character. Almost short stories, actually. In each chapter, we see another side of Olive. All the same character, ever changing. Just a really good book. And here's a link to a terrific NPR interview with the author, which includes a bit of the book read by the writer.
(Here's his description of Olive:
Strout’s big, blunt heroine and the book’s namesake, Olive Kitteridge, is tough, wounded, wounding. Big blunt heroine! How true.)
Related post: Save the Cat!