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
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 304 pages

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“I believe you,” Henry said, passing the man a basket of rolls. “And please. Call me Henry. One of my favorite names,” he added.

Denise laughed quietly; she liked him, he could see this. Christopher slumped farther into his seat. Henry Thibodeau’s parents lived on a farm inland, and so the two Henrys discussed crops, and pole beans, and the corn not being as sweet this summer from the lack of rain, and how to get a good asparagus bed.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Olive, when, in passing the ketchup to the young man, Henry Kitteridge knocked it over, and ketchup lurched out like thickened blood across the oak table. Trying to pick up the bottle, he caused it to roll unsteadily, and ketchup ended up on his fingertips, then on his white shirt.

“Leave it,” Olive commanded, standing up. “Just leave it alone, Henry. For God’s sake.”

And Henry Thibodeau, perhaps at the sound of his own name being spoken sharply, sat back, looking stricken.

“Gosh, what a mess I’ve made,” Henry Kitteridge said.

For dessert they were each handed a blue bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sliding in its center. “Vanilla’s my favorite,” Denise said. “Is it,” said Olive.

“Mine, too,” Henry Kitteridge said.



As autumn came, the mornings darker, and the pharmacy getting only a short sliver of the direct sun before it passed over the building and left the store lit by its own overhead lights, Henry stood in the back filling the small plastic bottles, answering the telephone, while Denise stayed up front near the cash register. At lunchtime, she unwrapped a sandwich she brought from home, and ate it in the back where the storage was, and then he would eat his lunch, and sometimes when there was no one in the store, they would linger with a cup of coffee bought from the grocer next door. Denise seemed a naturally quiet girl, but she was given to spurts of sudden talkativeness.

“My mother’s had MS for years, you know, so starting way back we all learned to help out. All three of my brothers are different. Don’t you think it’s funny when it happens that way?”

The oldest brother, Denise said, straightening a bottle of shampoo, had been her father’s favorite until he’d married a girl her father didn’t like. Her own in-laws were wonderful, she said. She’d had a boyfriend before Henry, a Protestant, and his parents had not been so kind to her.

“It wouldn’t have worked out,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, Henry’s a terrific young man,” Henry answered.

She nodded, smiling through her glasses like a thirteen-year-old girl. Again, he pictured her trailer, the two of them like overgrown puppies tumbling together; he could not have said why this gave him the particular kind of happiness it did, like liquid gold being poured through him. She was as efficient as Mrs. Granger had been, but more relaxed. “Right beneath the vitamins in the second aisle,” she would tell a customer. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Once, she told Henry she sometimes let a person wander around the store before asking if she could help them.

“That way, see, they might find something they didn’t know they needed. And your sales will go up.”

A block of winter sun was splayed across the glass of the cosmetics shelf; a strip of wooden floor shone like honey. He raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Lucky for me, Denise, when you came through that door.” She pushed up her glasses with the back of her hand, then ran the duster over the ointment jars.

Jerry McCarthy, the boy who delivered the pharmaceuticals once a week from Portland—or more often if needed—would sometimes have his lunch in the back room. He was eighteen, right out of high school; a big, fat kid with a smooth face, who perspired so much that splotches of his shirt would be wet, at times even down over his breasts, so the poor fellow looked to be lactating. Seated on a crate, his big knees practically to his ears, he’d eat a sandwich that had spilling from it mayonnaisey clumps of egg salad or tuna fish, landing on his shirt. More than once Henry saw Denise hand him a paper towel. “That happens to me,” Henry heard her say one day. “Whenever I eat a sandwich that isn’t just cold cuts, I end up a mess.” It couldn’t have been true. The girl was neat as a pin, if plain as a plate.

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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