Friday, March 5, 2010
The book has been on my list since it was rated as one of the best fiction reads of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly. Then it won the Pulitzer. It was only when my BFF told me she had borrowed the audio from the library and offered to let me upload it did I finally grab the opportunity to experience what everyone else out there already had.
A small seed of doubt sat dormant down in the corner of my brain though. I knew this was a collection of stories loosely gathered around a character named Olive Kitteredge. I'd tried short stories on audio before with Haruki Murakami and I crashed and burned. Was I setting myself up for failure? Several discs into the book, my BFF and I compared notes, and we both were not feeling the love for Olive yet. Was this the wrong media choice? Are we Pulitzer idiots? I told her I was going to ride it out. There had to be something to it.
What we have here is a collection of stories about various inhabitants of a small town in coastal Maine over a period of about 30 years. Some of the stories are directly about Olive Kitteredge, a bull-headed, opinionated, pain-in-the-arse woman, her husband Henry and son Chris. Other stories tell about the day-to-day joys and heartbreaks of the townsfolks, with Olive in the periphery. We see depression, aging, tragedy, adultery, births, deaths...the underbelly of any small town, including yours or mine. A slice of life, a snapshot of raw humanity.
Olive is an easy person to dislike. She is pushy, inconsiderate of others' feelings, controlling with her husband and son, and intimidating. She is angry, she gets depressed, and has wild mood swings. She has brow-beaten her husband and alienated her son. Throughout her life though, she leaves nuggets of wisdom and strength with random people, and we are witness to this. Perhaps she has a heart? She is never quite able to solve her own personal issues, however. Her son's physical and emotional distance baffles her - it is someone else's fault. Just when you think she is going to have an epiphany, and gain perspective on her frailties, the door closes. I'm not sure if she ever gets it, and is frustrating as a reader. I suppose this is reflective of many of us, is it not? At the end of the book, I admit I begin to warm up to her curmudgeonish ways, but I'm not sure I would like her if I met her in real life.
Strout's writing is very good. It is straight forward and well-balanced - both descriptive and emotive without being too flowery. The narrator, however, was not good. I know this had something to do with the experience. My BFF, born and raised in the northeast, said the Maine accent was butchered. I wouldn't know, but I found her voice to be very one-dimensional.
Frankly, I am a little surprised this won the Pulitzer. It left me a little chilly. Am I glad I read it? Yes, just to say I have. Would I read it again, this time in print? Nah.
2.5 out of 5 stars