I once had a conversation with friends about "passions" in life. We felt bad because we didn't have any! But since then, I've decided I actually DO have two: Eating & Reading. Both of those seem to occupy a great deal of my time. Now add writing. Food & Books, who could go wrong with that?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cantankerous Olive

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout: this was a Costco impulse buy last Saturday. I justified tossing it into my overloaded cart by saying , "well, it is the book club pick for January and all the library copies will probably be checked out." Olive would not have justified it. She'd say, "I deserve to buy a book, damn it" and leave it at that.

Olive won the Pulitzer Prize. Now I see why. At first it seemed like a collection of unrelated stories but as the connections became apparent, the complexity of the book became apparent. Olive appears sporadically even though she is the main character. I never knew when she would appear, or for how long. She was annoying, touching, outspoken, sensitive - completely unpredictable and often very unlikeable. Olive does not hold back. She says what she thinks, even when it damages her relationships. Olive is not introspective and yet, even at 72 she has the capacity to grow and change.

The book is full of dark subjects but doesn't require the reader to dwell on them: death, suicide, inadequate parenting, infidelity, divorce, depression, alcoholism, and disappointment. Every character is flawed, no one has a perfect living situation. Any yet the book is uplifting, not depressing. While I was reading it, I wasn't really aware of the unrelenting troubles and disappointment in each character's life - the author has created a mirror of community life. Full of problems, each person coping in a different way, and throughout it all, Olive stays true to her cantankerous self, occasionally revealing the soft inner core which is present in all of us.

I started reading it Saturday afternoon and finished on Sunday. I can do that, because I have a bit of Olive in me - interruptions be damned, can't you see I'm reading?!

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