Excerpt from Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge

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“Good afternoon,” she’d say when the telephone rang. “This is the Village Pharmacy. How can I help you today?” Like a girl playing grown-up. And then: On a Monday morning when the air in the pharmacy held a sharp chill, he went about opening up the store, saying, “How was your weekend, Denise?”

Olive had refused to go to church the day before, and Henry, uncharacteristically, had spoken to her sharply. “Is it too much to ask,” he had found himself saying, as he stood in the kitchen in his undershorts, ironing his trousers. “A man’s wife accompanying him to church?” Going without her seemed a public exposure of familial failure.

“Yes, it most certainly is too goddamn much to ask!” Olive had almost spit, her fury’s door flung open. “You have no idea how tired I am, teaching all day, going to foolish meetings where the goddamn principal is a moron! Shopping. Cooking. Ironing. Laundry. Doing Christopher’s homework with him! And you—” She had grabbed on to the back of a dining room chair, and her dark hair, still uncombed from its night’s disarrangement, had fallen across her eyes. “You, Mr. Head Deacon Claptrap Nice Guy, expect me to give up my Sunday mornings and go sit among a bunch of snot-wots!” Very suddenly she had sat down in the chair. “Well, I’m sick and tired of it,” she’d said, calmly. “Sick to death.” A darkness had rumbled through him; his soul was suffocating in tar.

The next morning, Olive spoke to him conversationally. “Jim’s  car smelled like upchuck last week. Hope he’s cleaned it out.” Jim  O’Casey taught with Olive, and for years took both Christopher and Olive to school.

“Hope so,” said Henry, and in that way their fight was done.

“Oh, I had a wonderful weekend,” said Denise, her small eyes behind her glasses looking at him with an eagerness that was so childlike it could have cracked his heart in two. “We went to Henry’s folks and dug potatoes at night. Henry put the headlights on from the car and we dug potatoes. Finding the potatoes in that cold soil—like an Easter egg hunt!”

He stopped unpacking a shipment of penicillin, and stepped down to talk to her. There were no customers yet, and below the front window the radiator hissed. He said, “Isn’t that lovely, Denise.” She nodded, touching the top of the vitamin shelf beside her. A small motion of fear seemed to pass over her face. “

I got cold and went and sat in the car and watched Henry digging potatoes, and I thought: It’s too good to be true.”

Excerpted from Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Strout. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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