S4L Book Club – Olive Kittridge

In a recent comment, Shelly mentions “Olive’s affair.” I’m guessing it’s a reference to Olive’s feelings for Jim O’Casey, as opposed to her budding feelings for Jack Kennison at the end of the book.

Did you consider Olive’s relationship with Jim O’Casey an affair? Though Jim drives Olive and Chris to school daily, and Olive and Jim have lunch together, they never otherwise act on any feelings of love or attraction. It doesn’t even sound as though they share much in the way of secrets or offer special support to one another. I didn’t consider it an affair.

How about Henry’s relationship with Denise in the first story? Henry offered Denise a lot of support. They discussed and shared their personal lives, their secrets. Did Henry have an affair with Denise?

In your opinion, what constitutes an affair?

How are these two relationships—Olive and Jim’s and Henry and Denise’s—different from relationships with very close friends with whom we share secrets and seek support?

I felt it was unfortunate that Henry and Olive had to look outside their marriage for these kinds of relationships, but they had set the parameters of their relationship, and they seemed comfortable with them, if not completely fulfilled. They both sought to fill certain needs by other means. I don’t think they broke the essential marital contract they had made with each other: they just didn’t include all their needs and desires in their contract.

Do you think in real life people make similarly incomplete marital contracts with their partners? Do they honor them the way Henry and Olive did?

My answers to those questions are yes and no, respectively. I think the modern real-life definition and expectation of marriage is different from what it was to Henry and Olive. I think people don’t always have a clear idea of what they want and expect when they enter into a marriage contract. And I definitely don’t think people are willing to honor their contracts as Henry and Olive did. Between a sense of entitlement and a lack of stick-to-it-iveness, people today are much quicker to throw in the towel when times get tough or a relationship is less than fulfilling. Like so much else in our modern culture, relationships are temporary and disposable.

What do you think?

Categories: Reading

2 replies »

  1. For some reason I had it in my head that Olive had had a full-blown affair, but I’m not surprised at my mistake. But wasn’t it at least an emotional affair? At least on Olive’s part? I think I recall that Olive wasn’t merely saddened or upset when Jim died…she was grief-stricken. The kind of grief one experiences from full emotional investment. So, even though their relationship wasn’t consummated, and even though Jim may have been unaware of Olive’s feelings, I think Olive was having an affair of the heart.

    And, sadly, I have to admit that you are spot-on regarding today’s relationships. Sigh.

  2. Yes, Olive was indeed grief-stricken when Jim died, and I would have to agree that she had an “affair of the heart,” as you say. I guess I’m not keen to equate that with what we normally call an extra-marital affair.

    People are grief-stricken when dear friends and pets die, when they lose their jobs, when a cause they work hard for fails. I considered Jim and Olive’s relationship special, and not really inappropriate. It wasn’t all that different from Henry’s relationship with Denise.

    Had Henry and Olive had a different relationship with each other, I might conclude differently.