Olive Kitteridge is a Pulitzer Prize winner that tells the story of an aging retired school teacher through a series of short stories, many of which just mention Olive in passing. It’s an unusual approach to character development that kind of worked for me and kind of didn’t.
Okay, maybe what didn’t work for me was the character of Olive. She is a B. It’s not that she is intentionally cruel or anything, but she is mostly lacking compassion, kindness, warmth, and humor, so it was hard to read a whole book about her. I was hoping the author would slowly reveal some of those personality traits as she told each separate vignette, but what she revealed was a woman who had alienated her son, isn’t grateful enough for being married to a good man, and is terrified about living and dying alone. This last trait was unexpected because she often seems like an ox trampling unemotionally through life. It did make her more sympathetic and explained some of her behavior later in life. But it wasn’t enough.
The “short stories” that make up the chapters often center on characters that only know Olive peripherally – maybe she taught them at school or they knew her through her husband. And the themes of these other stories are typically about the depressing side of the human experience – suicide, death of a young spouse, alcoholism, adultery, aging, mental illness, loneliness. Just based on this book, you would think all parents mess up their kids and everyone cheats on their spouses physically or within their hearts.
If the author’s goal was to tell a story about “life,” then she fell short. She missed the joyful part of life where people laugh, enjoy each other’s company, feel content, and like their parents.
It’s odd which books win Pulitzers.
If you regularly follow my blog, you’ll know I don’t like depressing books. It seems like I’ve been reading heavy books recently, so I think I need to change my search criteria. I’m looking for light but smart books. If you can recommend some I’d really appreciate it!
And if you read Olive Kitteridge, what did you think? Set me straight if I missed something.
PS – If you’re looking for a light but smart TV series, my husband and I recently discovered The Durrells in Corfu. It’s a Masterpiece Theater production available through Amazon Prime. Very charming and witty.