Saturday, February 11, 2023

Book Review: Olive, Again

Taken out of the Jackson Heights library. After reading Elizabeth Strout's Lucy by the Sea, where Olive is briefly mentioned as living in a retirement community, I took out Strout's sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge and enjoyed it. The writing style is very different from the Lucy book which is almost Hemingway-esque in its spareness. The third-person narrative is from Olive's point of view, at least in the chapters where she is the main character. In several others, she appears only tangentially. The structure is a collection of interrelated short stories of the residents of the tiny coastal town of Crosby, Maine, some of them have been the protagonists of other Strout novels such as The Burgess Boys and Isabelle and Amy (perhaps I will get to those books later). Everyone in town has secrets and Strout unsparingly shares them and their keepers' humanity and vulnerability. A teenage girl has a bizarre but tender relationship with her teacher's husband. A warring elderly couple attempts to understand their daughter's work as a dominatrix. The brutally honest, undiplomatic Olive examines her life and attempts to mellow as she negotiates relationships with her second husband, her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, and finally with her fellow residents in the retirement complex. Strout expertly depicts the indignities of aging, including incontinence. All the everyday details are here, both unpleasant and endearing.

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