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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  • First Published:
    Mar 2008, 288 pages
    Sep 2008, 304 pages

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Denise Thibodeau had round cheeks, and small eyes that peeped through her brown-framed glasses. “But a nice mouse,” Henry said. “A cute one.”

“No one’s cute who can’t stand up straight,” Olive said. It was true that Denise’s narrow shoulders sloped forward, as though apologizing for something. She was twenty-two, just out of the state university of Vermont. Her husband was also named Henry, and Henry Kitteridge, meeting Henry Thibodeau for the first time, was taken with what he saw as an unself-conscious excellence. The young man was vigorous and sturdy-featured with a light in his eye that seemed to lend a flickering resplendence to his decent, ordinary face. He was a plumber, working in a business owned by his uncle. He and Denise had been married one year.

“Not keen on it,” Olive said, when he suggested they have the young couple to dinner. Henry let it drop. This was a time when his son — not yet showing the physical signs of adolescence — had become suddenly and strenuously sullen, his mood like a poison shot through the air, and Olive seemed as changed and changeable as Christopher, the two having fast and furious fights that became just as suddenly some blanket of silent intimacy where Henry, clueless, stupefied, would find himself to be the odd man out.

But standing in the back parking lot at the end of a late summer day, while he spoke with Denise and Henry Thibodeau, and the sun tucked itself behind the spruce trees, Henry Kitteridge felt such a longing to be in the presence of this young couple, their faces turned to him with a diffident but eager interest as he recalled his own days at the university many years ago, that he said, “Now, say. Olive and I would like you to come for supper soon.”

He drove home, past the tall pines, past the glimpse of the bay, and thought of the Thibodeaus driving the other way, to their trailer on the outskirts of town. He pictured the trailer, cozy and picked up—for Denise was neat in her habits—and imagined them sharing the news of their day. Denise might say, “He’s an easy boss.” And Henry might say, “Oh, I like the guy a lot.”

He pulled into his driveway, which was not a driveway so much as a patch of lawn on top of the hill, and saw Olive in the garden. “Hello, Olive,” he said, walking to her. He wanted to put his arms around her, but she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away. He told her the Thibodeaus were coming for supper. “It’s only right,” he said.

Olive wiped sweat from her upper lip, turned to rip up a clump of onion grass. “Then that’s that, Mr. President,” she said. “Give your order to the cook.”

On Friday night the couple followed him home, and the young Henry shook Olive’s hand. “Nice place here,” he said. “With that view of the water. Mr. Kitteridge says you two built this yourselves.”

“Indeed, we did.”

Christopher sat sideways at the table, slumped in adolescent gracelessness, and did not respond when Henry Thibodeau asked him if he played any sports at school. Henry Kitteridge felt an unexpected fury sprout inside him; he wanted to shout at the boy, whose poor manners, he felt, revealed something unpleasant not expected to be found in the Kitteridge home.

“When you work in a pharmacy,” Olive told Denise, setting before her a plate of baked beans, “you learn the secrets of everyone in town.” Olive sat down across from her, pushed forward a bottle of ketchup. “Have to know to keep your mouth shut. But seems like you know how to do that.”

“Denise understands,” Henry Kitteridge said.

Denise’s husband said, “Oh, sure. You couldn’t find someone more trustworthy than Denise.”

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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