Off the Bucket List: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Relationships. Whew.

I’m not sure how “Olive Kitteridge” escaped my attention for this long — the 2009 Pulitzer winner and much beloved tale of a Crosby, Maine reluctant busybody. My dad sent the paperback and hardcover of the 2019 followup, “Olive, Again” late last summer, and I promised myself after I finished Barack Obama’s memoir I would dive in.

“Something lighter,” I said to myself.

Riiiight.

Despite the fact that while reading this book I experienced this sense of gnawing agitation, I kind of loved it. With each chapter, Strout breaks down a different relationship to its essential elements — the people involved and the emotions felt. Whether it’s Olive and her husband, Henry; Henry and his pharmacy assistant, Denise; a hardware store owner and a lonely woman; Winnie and her sister Julie …Strout takes care to bring these fictional characters in very real, messy ways. Their stories are emotional, and some of them are indeed about love, but they’re not … lovely. Well, maybe the last one. OK, the last one. But a lot of them? Uncomfortable. Awkward. Sad.

I mean, Olive and her son, Christopher. Ouch.

I’m sure there’s a fan page somewhere, a group of people that have long-since staked out their favorite resident of Crosby and spun off another series of fan fiction around them. Did Julie end up with Bruce? Did Jane leave Bobby? Is Marlene going to kill Kerry? And yikes is Christopher still married to Ann? Ah, so many questions!

If you become easily anxious and prefer your fiction to be complete escapism, I can see where “Olive” could be off-putting. But I liked the window into the world that is Crosby, and found myself wondering what kinds of stories lie behind the doors of all the homes I walk by with my dog every day. I will get to the sequel eventually — I want to let this one sit on my brain for a bit. Maybe watch the miniseries. And mostly, just kind of wonder what Olive is up to these days.

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