Monday, February 15, 2010

Olive Kitteridge and Grand Forks Heat Wave

What is it about this dismal book that has moved into my mind and won't let go? Olive Kitteridge is a book about Olive, through 13 stories, all of which feature her to some extent. Some times she just mentioned; other times the story highlights her perspective and view of the world.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Download Cover

And what a dreary view it is! Olive has almost no illusions about life, other than her faulty expectation that after her years of raising her child, being highly focused on his well-being from her perspective, he will automatically continue to be a central part of her life, and relate to her, living nearby, as she ages. Sure, it's nice if our offspring will feel inclined to be our buddies, as they grow up, but they don't owe this to us. . . and developing lives that are satisfying and not totally "offspring-focused" is our responsibility. Olive doesn't know this; she's not particularly sensitive in her focus on her only son, and she's often dismissive of the people around her.

All of the stories address issues of relationship, but most often, failure of relationship and loneliness.

See what I mean about this book being dismal? For much of the book, Olive is a middle-aged, unappealing, under-appreciated, blunt, unforgiving, almost joyless person, who works very hard, and occasionally reaches out to others in very touching, unexpectedly meaningful, but brutally honest, ways. Part of the problem with this book, though, and why I call it "dismal" is that it is very easy to identify with Olive, to some extent. (And thank God it is only to some extent!) It's also easy to see my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances in Olive, which just makes me sad for all of them.

It's easy for Olive to zero in on the mis-guided and failed attempts of others to connect with one another, often risking nothing of themselves, and constructing lives with little meaning, or hope, and all too often betraying and abandoning those around them.

Strangely, even the unlikable Olive works her way into your heart as you read this book. In her small town, people seem to accommodate to one another, often (but not always) looking out for each other, but just as likely enjoying casual meaness toward one another. As you read this book, you want Olive to get her efforts rewarded, you want her to be less lonely, but to also be, somehow, nicer, to those around her as well. And sometimes there's such a glimmer of hope for Olive; a better life seems just within reach, but, well, there goes Olive, being her usual Olive-self.

Dismal though it is, I give this book a 5-star rating. It's beautifully written, and I found myself highlighting (in my nook) lots of sections, just for the language and the insights.

(Bonnie got a break from her reviews; she didn't need another "dismal" she told me.)

And speaking of that glimmer of hope almost in reach, Grand Forks practically hot a heat wave this past weekend! We got to 27 degrees above zero, and we residents of ND are practically codependent to our state: "It's not so bad! Look, you can even have fun in this climate!"

Look! There was sledding:


and a snow mobile race:


and Doug and I tromping along the river . . .

in snow shoes:


10 comments:

Nicki, said...

The book sounds sad and yet interesting - the snow, no matter how you try to paint it fun (even with snowshoes) is just plain yuck! (but great pics)

pat said...

Blue sky, balmy outdoor temps, and the chance to get out and frolic in the clear weather!!! What a gift!! Store it up for the next couple of months, Ang. You know what's coming.... I haven't tried "Olive" yet. Everytime I've picked it up and read the dust jacket I've gotten so bummed that I just haven't been able to bring myself to read it.

Maria said...

Ugh! I think I can identify with Olive in more ways than one - pathetic! I think I'm going to avoid this one, at least for now . . . This time of year, when I'm already battling SAD, is not the time for "dismal" self-analysis.

Good for you, enjoying the outdoors as best you can. At least the sky was blue.

Suzy said...

I love your book reviews. And it sounds sad but worth the read. I hope I don't relate to Olive to much. Great insight about her. And your snow pix are awesome! Glad you enjoyed your tiny heat wave :).

Bobbi said...

That really makes me want to read, I have put that too the side for so long and I really enjoy it.

Those snow pictures almost make it look fun. If it wasn't here I am sure it would look really fun!

Reds said...

Too bad Bonnie wasn't in the mood for a review!! ;) And what beautiful blue skies you are getting! Here it is grey and no snow - can't even snowshoe!!

Gypsy Girl(Brenda) said...

The beautiful blue sky with the snow looks so awesome. How very funny to be out with your snow shoes. Ds # 5 has been delighted to do that for all winter. Wow 27 lay out in the sun to long and get a sunburn.

annabelle g said...

i have to be in the mood for a sad book....blue skies and snow do make pretty pics :)

KRISTIE said...

sledding looks like so much fun!

Jeanne said...

You are a stronger woman than I am for I couldn't read a book that is dismal. Your review is definitely intriguing, but going in knowing how sad it is just isn't something I would want to do. I love how you stretch yourself though.

And YAY on the balmy weather you had! The pictures are wonderful!