Summary and book reviews of Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again

A Novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout X
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2019 BookBrowse Fiction Award

Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is "a compelling life force" (San Francisco Chronicle).

The New Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout "animates the ordinary with an astonishing force," and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace.

Labor

Two days earlier, Olive Kitteridge had delivered a baby.

She had delivered the baby in the backseat of her car; her car had been parked on the front lawn of Marlene Bonney's house. Marlene was having a baby shower for her daughter, and Olive had not wanted to park behind the other cars lined up on the dirt road. She had been afraid that someone might park behind her and she wouldn't be able to get out; Olive liked to get out. So she had parked her car on the front lawn of the house, and a good thing she had, that foolish girl—her name was Ashley and she had bright blond hair, she was a friend of Marlene's daughter—had gone into labor, and Olive knew it before anyone else did; they were all sitting around the living room on folding chairs and she had seen Ashley, who sat next to her, and who was enormously pregnant, wearing a red stretch top to accentuate this pregnancy, leave the room, and Olive just knew.

She'd gotten up and found the girl in the kitchen, leaning ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Olive Kitteridge is a fascinating character. Some readers might see her as abrasive and unlikeable; others might see her as honest and sympathetic. How do you characterize Olive? What do you appreciate about her? What irks you about her? Is she someone you'd like to meet in real life?
  2. If you read Olive Kitteridge, do you feel Olive has changed in Olive, Again? If so, in what ways? If not, what about her has stayed the same?
  3. During a fight with her son, Christopher, Olive realizes "that she had been frightened of her son for years." How does she come to this realization? How does it influence how Olive thinks of herself as a mother?
  4. Watching Ann yell at Christopher, Olive realizes she had yelled at her late husband, Henry, in much the ...
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  • award image

    BookBrowse Awards
    2019

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Older characters are still fairly rare in literature, so it's refreshing to encounter a protagonist in her 80s. Crosby feels like a microcosm of modern society, with Olive as our Everywoman guide. She hasn't lost her faculties or her spirits, but the approach of death lends added poignancy to her story. Those who are wary of sequels need not fear: Olive, Again is even better than Olive Kitteridge, and one of the most profound and worthwhile books of the year...continued

Full Review Members Only (769 words).

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Newsday
After a No. 1 spot on the bestseller list, the Pulitzer Prize and a TV miniseries starring Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge is surely the most beloved unlikable character in recent literary history...This new collection of stories about Olive's friends and family hits it out of the park.

The New York Times Book Review
[Olive] is as indelible as the ink on Jack Kennison’s paper. If you know Olive, you know how she would respond to the hoopla: with an eye roll and an ‘Oh Godfrey.’ It’s good to have her back.

The Washington Post
I have long and deeply admired all of Strout’s work, but Olive, Again transcends and triumphs. The naked pain, dignity, wit and courage these stories consistently embody fill us with a steady, wrought comfort.

People
Maybe you read the wonderful Olive Kitteridge—or saw the HBO series—and thought you'd had enough of Strout's dour, prickly heroine? Guess again: Her return is a stunner.

The Times (UK)
[I] think we all have had an Olive in our lives whom we never got to know. Mine was a teacher named Gertrude. It is Strout’s genius to reveal them to us in all their idiosyncratic glory. Olive, again? Oh yes, I do think so.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
There's no simple truth about human existence, Strout reminds us, only wonderful, painful complexity. 'Well, that's life,' Olive says. 'Nothing you can do about it.' Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant. A thrilling book in every way.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Strout's stories form a cohesive novel, both sequel and culmination, that captures, with humor, compassion, and embarrassing detail, aging, loss, loneliness, and love. Strout again demonstrates her gift for zeroing in on ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people to highlight their extraordinary resilience.

Booklist (starred review)
Love, loss, regret, the complexities of marriage, the passing of time, and the astonishing beauty of the natural world are abiding themes...Unmissable.

Library Journal (starred review)
Strout, who won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge (2008), wrote that Olive forced her way back into Strout's consciousness long after the author thought she was done with her. Olive demanded Strout write these new stories. Of course Olive did that. It's so…Olive. Thank goodness Olive prevailed. Exquisite.

Reader Reviews

Reid

A delightful curmudgeon
As with the first book, Olive Kitteridge, this is the story of a singular woman living her brief life on the coast of Maine, creating wreckage with her acerbic tongue and caustic judgments. She is deeply broken, our Olive, and not very likeable, and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Older Characters in Fiction

Covers of novels featuring older charactersThe elderly are often underrepresented in popular culture, and where these characters do exist, they are often one-dimensional. The most effective depictions of elderly people demonstrate that age does not limit one's ability to have an interesting inner life, new adventures, and/or the chance for romance. In short, they resist the notion that life is over when one retires or becomes a widow/widower.

One way to combat the stereotypical characterization of blank or confused elderly people is to give them a rich intellectual life. Penelope Lively's Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger (1987) explores the layers of 76-year-old Claudia Hampton's personal history. To all appearances, there's not much going on in this old woman's head as she lies ...

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