Summary and book reviews of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Chapter 1
Pharmacy

For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold.

The pharmacy was a small two-story building attached to another building that housed separately a hardware store and a small grocery. Each morning Henry parked in the back by the large metal bins, and then entered the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?

  2. Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?

  3. How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?

  4. Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?

  5. What freedoms do the residents of Crosby, Maine, experience in contrast with those who flee the town for bigger “ponds” (California, New York)? Does anyone feel trapped in Crosby, and if so, who? What outlets for escape are available to them?

  6. Why does Henry tolerate Olive as much as he does, catering to her, agreeing with her, staying even-keeled when she rants and ...
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  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2009

Reviews

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly

Rarely does a story collection pack such a gutsy emotional punch.

The New Yorker

Strout makes us experience not only the terrors of change but also the terrifying hope that change can bring: she plunges us into these churning waters and we come up gasping for air.

USA Today.

Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her. . . . [Elizabeth Strout] constructs her stories with rich irony and moments of genuine surprise and intense emotion. . . . Glorious, powerful stuff.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Olive Kitteridge still lingers in memory like a treasured photograph.

O: The Oprah Magazine

Perceptive, deeply empathetic . . . Olive is the axis around which these thirteen complex, relentlessly human narratives spin themselves into Elizabeth Strout’s unforgettable novel in stories.

San Francisco Chronicle

Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. When she’s not onstage, we look forward to her return. The book is a page-turner because of her.


Starred Review. Though loneliness and loss haunt these pages, Strout also supplies gentle humor and a nourishing dose of hope.

Library Journal

Readers will have to decide for themselves whether it's worth the ride to the last few pages to witness Olive's slide into something resembling insight.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Like this story, the collection is easy to read and impossible to forget.

Kirkus Reviews

A perfectly balanced portrait of the human condition, encompassing plenty of anger, cruelty and loss without ever losing sight of the equally powerful presences of tenderness, shared pursuits and lifelong loyalty.

Reader Reviews

JaneN

Olive
Olive Kitteridge is strong, sassy, thoroughly opinionated and totally lovable. The stories that Elizabeth Strout uses to tell us about Olive are so well written and so detailed that you really get to know the character. Just When you think you know ...   Read More

Margaret McCrank

Top Recommendation!
Every year in June, our book club has a get-together to choose our books for the up-coming season. We live an hour's drive away from the closest book store, so all our books must be chosen- which we do by voting - before we all disperse to do our ...   Read More

Lynn

Wonderful stories
I always read the Pulitzer Prize winners, but rarely seem to enjoy them. This was an exception. I loved this collection of 11 short stories. Depending on the story, Olive Kitteridge was sometimes the main subject, sometimes she was only mentioned ...   Read More

Frank F.

Annoyance
I found the third-to-last and second-to-last stories to be an annoyance (the one about the two young sisters whose mother tried to shoot her daughter's boyfriend and the one about the disturbed young preacher's daughter). These were two very ...   Read More

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