This novel is a compendium of short stories in which Olive Kitteridge, a retired teacher in small town Crosby, Maine, plays a spectrum of roles in the lives of her family and neighbors . The novel is about marriage and aging and is not limited by the venue it represents. My Name is Lucy Barton, which I previously reviewed and preferred, was principally about the failed relationship between mother and daughter told from the daughter’s perspective. Here the failed relationship is between son and mother, told from the mother’s perspective. The children in both novels have failed marriages with the fault lines left to the reader.
Olive Kitteridge is complex. Understanding to a mentally and physically wounded child, but cold and scary to children and adults alike. She is fundamentally insecure and cruel to her husband who is loved by all. Marriage is also complex. The bonds are often obscure and subject to change in an outer orbital as marital relations become more distant. The overriding theme, however, is settling as we age. Selectivity is a luxury of the young.
Ms. Strout is a native of Maine so she is on her home turf. She knows the characters, and character development is her strength. The editors did a decent job combining stories without circumstances previously conveyed being needlessly repeated in later stories. Only in the chapter called “River” did I notice one small lapse. Another weakness is in other stories where Olive Kitteridge only plays a cameo role. In stories not previously published she may have been edited in. The story “Criminal” is one where this might have occurred. The story as a whole seemed contrived and out-of-place with the rest of the “novel”.
A Pulitzer Prize winning author of fiction and of the short story form, Ms. Strout is an excellent writer. The “novel” is worth reading, particularly for aspiring writers interested in characters. I did feel cheated by this not being a stand alone novel rather than an edited composite.