S4L Book Club – Olive Kittridge

One of the canned questions about this book is as follows:

In “A Different Road,” Strout writes about Olive and Henry: “No, they would never get over that night because they had said things that altered how they saw each other” (p. 124). What is it that Olive and Henry say to each other while being held hostage in the hospital bathroom that has this effect? Have you experienced a moment like this in one of your close relationships?

“A Different Road” might be my favorite story in the book. It’s really hard to choose.

I don’t want to be the first one to answer the question about what it is that Olive and Henry say to each other that alters how they see each other. What do you think?

Can you think of moments or comments that permanently altered your vision of someone or something? I can think of a few, but I’m not willing to share any of them here. I’m wondering, though, if any of these things really changed the relationship. I don’t think they did. They’re scars, perhaps, dings in the finish, nicks in the drywall, but they didn’t destroy the relationship. Maybe the continuation of a relationship, in spite of the scars and dings, actually makes it stronger. Scar tissue can be tough.

Here’s another line from that story that I really like:

But after a certain point in a marriage, you stopped having a certain kind of fight, Olive thought, because when the years behind you were more than the years in front of you, things were different.

So true! But not necessarily because there are more years behind than in front of you. I think it’s a natural process of spending time with someone, and it happens in all relationships, not just marriages. We come to terms with our own and others’ flaws and weaknesses. We compensate for them, deal with them.

Mike doesn’t tell me to calm down when a bee buzzes near me. Whenever possible, he takes action before it gets near me! Likewise, I take care of all the spiders in the house. And that HUGE one in the Galapagos right by the light switch–it’s best he never hears about that one. He doesn’t argue about how he has to keep his ground moose way far away from the edge on his half of the pizza. I don’t fight the sports.

What are some things you’ve come to terms with in your relationships?

Categories: Reading

2 replies »

  1. I do recall the hostage situation, but not enough of the particulars to comment on specific things said. However, I do have to point out what struck me in your take of the situation, Jen. For you, the specific things said were merely surface scratches and dents. I think that’s very true in a relationship that has a solid foundation and is growing. Where I think the specific things said (or actions taken or not taken) can destroy the relationship is when that relationship is already shaky to start with. If the foundation is unstable, then those things being said/done can be the very undoing of the relationship. Given Olive’s affair (to name one thing), something was already quite amiss regarding their closeness and intimacy, as she was looking outside of the relationship to find it.

    Coming to terms with our relationships–what a fun question! One thing on our list that even the dog has to deal with: I allow the dog on the sofa, while Tomas does not. He tolerates my preference; I tolerate his. Amber (said dog) will snuggle up on the sofa with me, but all Tomas has to do is enter the room, and Amber attempts to climb down from the sofa without Tomas’ noticing. It’s funny to watch. Tomas tolerates the fact that I rarely use a timer while cooking or baking, although it drives him bonkers. We each have our “specialty” areas regarding taking care of things with the kids and around the house: Tomas is all things electrical. I am all things medical.

    I wish I had more fun things to list here. I particularly enjoyed your bee and spider story!

  2. I agree that in an already shaky relationship, a little thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    I think you and I may perceive Henry and Olive’s relationship slightly differently. I thought it was pretty stable, though incomplete and not entirely fulfilling for either one of them. They were committed to each other despite the lack of emotional connection. They withstood a lot of dents and dings.

    I’m sure this is as much a reflection of me and what I bring to the story as it is any reality painted by the author.

    If, as I suspect, you saw the Henry/Olive relationship as less stable, I think you’re justified. They were emotionally distant, to be sure.

    I love your demonstration of how different people have different rules, and how even dogs understand that and can deal with it.

    When working with teen boys at a detention facility, I had a fairly strict policy on foul language. It applied to everyone except one boy. I gave him a little slack because I believed he had more serious issues and really couldn’t meet the standard consistently.

    For a while, the other boys complained about the unfairness of my system (too bad, so sad), but in the end, they accepted it and even supported it, urging me to forgive a slip-up if they thought circumstances warranted.