Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009 for her book “Olive Kitteridge.” Now Strout has penned a sequel, “Olive, Again.”
The author continues her pattern of writing short stories in chapters focusing on Olive, or a character known to Olive, in her small town of Crosby, Maine. Strout’s well-crafted profile makes Olive someone readers will long remember. Humor is plentiful along with the daily insults Olive suffers as she ages.
The opening chapter begins where the first novel ends. Olive, now a widow, has met Jack, himself recently widowed. They are lucky to have found each other. Olive considers herself practical and plain spoken; others see her as rude and frequently caustic. Jack, once charming, handsome and tenured at Harvard until his forced retirement, regrets his infidelity to his first wife.
Olive and Jack feel they have been bad parents. Jack has never accepted his daughter’s relationship with another woman and rarely sees her. Olive regrets her curtness and inattention to her son. Olive detested her son’s first wife and is critical of his second. She has no relationship with her grandchildren.
It’s a testament to the author’s human portrayal of Olive that makes it impossible not to feel true fondness for this character, despite her personality traits. We gain insight into Olive’s regrets, her loneliness, and sometimes the small joys she experiences.
We know what Olive is thinking as she interacts with others in her brutally honest manner. She simply doesn’t understand the behavior of others. Sometimes, in her own inimitable way, she manages to offer solace to struggling acquaintances.
Olive is well into her 80s before she faces the fact that she may have squandered away her days without seeing the good, the love, and the beauty of day-to-day life. The thoughts that have consumed Olive as she ages include the dread of loneliness, the fear of being ignored or forgotten, the realization that if one lives long enough his/her world will shrink.
Although “Olive, Again” can be read as a stand-alone, knowing Olive more thoroughly by reading Strout's first book will provide an enriched enjoyment of her sequel. For those wishing to catch a televised version check out “Olive Kitteridge,” an HBO series.
Elizabeth Strout will present on “Olive Again” at St. Louis County Library Headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 24, from 7-8:30 p.m.