Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout

I randomly choose to listen to the Book Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout when my podcast inventory was depleted, and I was looking for something to listen during my workout. I had heard good things about the book, and so I downloaded it.  For some inexplainable reason, I thought this was going to be a book like Anne of Green Gables or some other cohesive story. It was not at all what I expected.

The book consists of a series of vignettes.  The first one focuses on Olive’s husband, Henry.  We learn quite a bit about Olive from Henry who is the polar opposite of his wife.  We learn that Olive is curt and prone to being direct in her speaking.  We know that she does not show loving emotions and we begin to suspect that Olive has some darkness inside.

The book continues in the form of vignettes.  We read some from Olive’s perspective and we read others that only mention Olive in quick passing.  At first, I was confused and slightly irritated.  Why name a book after a character and not really make her the main character? As I continued to listen, I was amazed at how the author was able to capture the essence of a human and the authenticity of life so well.

Over the course of the book, we come to know Olive.  We do find that she has struggled with depression or some other behavioral issue.  We see that she is very direct and sometimes to the point of being callous.  She is the most feared teacher in her school. 

We also learn that Olive is simply human, with real feelings and for all her gruffness, she can be very kind-hearted.  In several of the vignettes, the characters reflect on something that Olive has said that has made a positive and meaningful impact on their lives. We also learn that Olive is very accepting of others, regardless of whether the individual falls outside the typical social norms. She sees when others are struggling emotionally and does not shy away.

This book haunts me in a good way, because it reinforced to me that I, like others am only human and I have many faults.  But it also helped me see how precious life is and reminded me to be accepting of others.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our own lives that we fail to see ourselves the way others do.  We would all do ourselves a big favor if we would watch other’s reactions to our behaviors to provide some insight to ourselves.  The book Olive Kitteridge has provided me with some good lessons learned, indeed.