S4L Book Club – Olive Kittridge

Kirkus says this about Olive Kittridge:

A perfectly balanced portrait of the human condition, encompassing plenty of anger, cruelty and loss without ever losing sight of the equally powerful presences of tenderness, shared pursuits and lifelong loyalty.

Do you agree?

I waffle. Initially, I didn’t think it was a balanced portrait, but I can probably be persuaded. Certainly, Olive’s personality balances out over time; she becomes more aware, resigned, softened, which balances her harshness. Overall, though, I think maybe the book is weighted on the side of struggle and disappointment.

Or maybe I wear rose-colored glasses. While I know some of the horrors of the human condition, and I am pretty sure this will look like reality to some people, if I were to write about my community and my reality, I don’t think it would look like this book. Would yours?

Categories: Reading

3 replies »

  1. Oh, how I wish I could remember this book more vividly so that I could have a full discussion regarding it. But I’m afraid I only recall a general liking of the book, and well as a few fragments of the story here and there.

    One this I recall as being notable was Olive’s sensitivity toward the anorexic girl…and that she was very kind and considerate toward her. I found it touching.

    At least I think I did. Or am I mistaken?

  2. Shelly – We did see such kindness and gentleness from Olive toward the anorexic girl. I think it was one of the stories where we definitely got to see a different side of her.

    When I started reading, I thought this book was overwhelmingly sad…as I read, I began to notice more moments of happiness and hope. That’s one of the things that really struck me – the way the Strout was able to move from one to another with such ease. For example, in Security, when Olive goes to New York and doesn’t think she’ll ever have a good time again…Henry’s in the nursing home, and she hasn’t been close to her son, etc. Things don’t look happy, but on the plane Olive feels “something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden surging greediness for life.” And it goes on to talk to about the clouds, the green of the fields, the view that is amazing and wondrous. I think these moments, and the contrast, are the strength of the book.

  3. “…these [happy] moments, and the contrast, are the strength of the book.”


    I agree, too, that there was a progression from mostly sad to more balanced.