S4L Book Club – Olive Kittridge

Thanks to a strong recommendation from Shelly in a recent comment, I’ve decided our March book will be The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I hope you’ll read it and participate in our discussion.

Now, back to Olive Kittridge.

I have a good many questions about this book, but I’m having some trouble articulating them. This is definitely a book that I need to think about and work with in order to grasp in a meaningful way. I’ve started writing two questions but felt they were somehow out of order–that something else should be addressed first. I wish I knew what that was!

Last time, I confessed to feeling a lack of cohesion between the thirteen short stories. Shelly did not feel that way at all. What purpose do you think the non-Olive stories serve? Do they somehow illuminate Olive, even if she’s barely mentioned? Or do they illuminate a theme that relates somehow to Olive?

Take, for example, the story of Julie (“Ship in a Bottle”), whose fiance abandons her on their wedding day. The mother takes a shot at the fiance, and the father is building a boat in the basement rather than a ship in a bottle. Julie runs away, escapes–she’s a ship that’s getting out of the bottle, a boat that slips out of the basement. What does this story do for Olive or the book?

I sort of pride myself on being able to make connections between any seemingly unrelated things, and I can make connections here: Julie feels trapped, like a ship in a bottle. Apparently, the husband does, too, since he’s actually building a boat in the basement. They’re all trapped by the crazy mother and who-knows-what else.

We can say Olive feels trapped, too. Trapped in a marriage to a man she doesn’t completely love, trapped in an unsatisfying relationship with her son, trapped by her own personality, which is so often misunderstood.

Now, these stories were not written to go together in a novel. That wasn’t their initial purpose. Some, at least, were independent short stories, published in different magazines, and then pulled together in this book, probably re-written to a degree.

So what do you think is the purpose of these non-Olive stories, and do these stories do their job?

I think they share a tone and some themes, so I guess their purpose might be to paint a backdrop. I think they work as a collection but not so much as a novel about Olive, as I said before, so I’m not sure they serve their purpose as part of a novel. But that’s not to say I don’t like them. They are well written, evocative, honest, and interesting.

While we’re at it, did you have a favorite non-Olive story? What did you especially like about it?

Categories: Reading