After completion of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, I for some odd reason cannot help but compare the book to raw broccoli…without dip. At first thought, one must think that Olive Kitteridge proved one of the worst books I have ever read in my entire life due to raw broccoli’s repulsive taste. I, however, will explain why such a rash and hasty inference deems preposterous in this scenario. People who have never experienced the displeasure of eating raw broccoli should consider themselves extremely lucky. The initial outrageous blandness of such a vegetable hits the tongue’s taste buds and somehow, someway, turns the bland taste into a malevolent foulness, often becoming difficult to swallow. The same rings true for Strout’s novel. At some points during the reading, I wanted nothing more than to “spit” the words back out. Strout includes narratives that prove difficult to “swallow,” like raw broccoli. For example, the author writes a short story about a young woman named Julie, still controlled by her mother, Anita, despite Julie’s entrance to womanhood. Julie recollects to her younger sister how “Most mothers don’t shoot their daughter’s boyfriends,” after Anita attempts to kill Julie’s ex-fiancé (195). Although quite scary, Strout surely captures an accurate mother-daughter relationship in certain American families within this narrative. This thought urges me to put the broccoli down. In another narrative, Strout explains how the main character, Olive Kitteridge, visits her son, Christopher, in New York City. Olive, a widow that lost her lovable husband to a stroke, maintains few friends in her growing age. Christopher remains one of few reasons Olive continues to keep living. However, by the end of her stay in New York, Olive explains why she cannot call her son, “He was cruel” (232). This direct characterization of Christopher creates realization towards Olive’s situation: she has no one left in her life to live for. However, as with raw broccoli, many people forget the effects of battling through such horrible “taste.” Raw broccoli deems great for the human body, providing a person with physical strength and endurance. Olive, though quite old in age, battles through the curveballs and difficulties life throws at her. Due to her perseverance, Olive falls in love with a man, filling each other’s “holes” within their lives, like “two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together” (270). Although very depressing at points, Olive Kitteridge ends on a hopeful note. In doing so, Strout utilizes the character of Olive to speak to those encountering difficult life problems in order to tell them that there is always a reason to live. Similar to broccoli, Olive Kitteridge proves worthwhile to “eat.”
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, dives in and out of numerous peculiar narratives about the townsfolk in Crosby, Maine. Each narrative includes the character, Olive Kitteridge, in some way or form, weaving her unforgettable presence into many people’s lives. Now two-thirds of the way finished with Strout’s work, my feelings towards her book have changed since the beginning of the novel. No longer do I read Strout’s work with a smile on my face and an urge to turn the page, but rather a depressing feeling that just wants Strout’s tales to end. I find that as the book progresses, the narratives become darker and darker with more evils entering into the character’s lives. For example, Strout’s first few narratives of her work end with lessons learned by certain characters, as well as hope. For instance, Strout constructs a story about a young boy named Kevin Coulson who plans to commit suicide. However, while risking his life to save a childhood friend from the ferociousness of the ocean, Kevin admires his friend’s will exclaiming, “Look how she wanted to live” (47). Kevin’s commendable tone towards his friend’s perseverance to live strikes hope in the minds of the readers, suggesting that Kevin may choose not to commit suicide. The very next narrative ends in a similar, hopeful way. The piano player in the town’s bar, Angela O’Meara, struggles with relationships. Strout describes a past relationship with a fellow pianist named Simon, as well as a current relationship with a married man named Malcolm. After a night with confrontations between both Simon and Malcolm, Angela makes the decision to move on, announcing that “Even drunk, she knew she would not call him [Malcolm]” (60). Angela’s choice to leave crippling relationships to better her life motivates Strout’s audience to do the same in their lives. After these inspiring narratives however, Olive Kitteridge seems take a U-Turn. Strout relates a tale of a young anorexic girl named Nina. With the help of Olive Kitteridge and a widowed woman named Daisy, Nina seeks the aid of her parents in order to cure her disease. Despite all of Daisy and Olive’s efforts, Daisy must pass on the saddening news a few months later, “The funeral’s private” (100). Strout creates false sense of hope in this narrative, robbing readers of a feeling of success and happiness. Strout then goes on to weave a story of how the Kitteridges unfortunately become hostages in an armed robbery at the hospital. Instead of finding peace and forgiveness after the drastic event, the townspeople conclude that “Both Kitteridges were changed by the event” (105). The next paragraph goes on to explain how this “change” experienced by the Kitteridges proved unhealthy. Strout’s writing clearly depicts how not every challenge encountered by an individual ends happily ever after.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Elizabeth Strout, author of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Award with her book, Olive Kitteridge, weaves numerous narratives together all in the presence of one, unforgettable character, in her masterpiece. Not surprisingly, this one distinguished character goes by the name of Olive Kitteridge. Strout’s prized character, Olive, mirrors the author’s life in certain areas. For example, after growing up in various towns in northern New England, Strout decides to develop the character Olive in a small town by the name of Crosby, Maine. Olive Kitteridge teaches for a living, paralleling Strout’s mother. Despite these charming comparisons, I would most definitely not befriend Olive due to her pretentious demeanor and shrewd attitude. The novel begins with a narrative that describes the relationship Olive possesses with her husband, Henry Kitteridge. Henry, a laid-back man who runs the town’s pharmacy with a young woman by the name of Denise, loves interacting with his working partner and her husband. While the Kitteridge’s eat dinner with the young couple (despite Olive’s protests), Olive cries out, “for God’s sake,” after Henry spills ketchup down the front of his shirt (7). Olive’s profane diction creates a tone of resentment towards her husband’s clumsiness. The italicized word “sake” indirectly characterizes her as accusatory and fed up with Henry’s actions. She goes on to announce to her husband that Denise “Looks just like a mouse” (5). The simile portrays Olive’s judgmental mentality towards others, illustrating her as an arrogant person. I do not desire to become friends with a woman that treats her husband as cruelly as Olive Kitteridge does and who possesses an air of contempt toward other people. Strout delves into another narrative about Olive Kitteridge’s son’s wedding day. Christopher Kitteridge, Olive’s son, unsurprisingly marries a woman with similar qualities to his mother: controlling and arrogant. Olive seems to understand the danger of having a daughter-in-law that thinks she can do nothing wrong, and the effects it will have on her son. In realizing this, Olive decides to steal and undergarment from Suzanne’s room, as well as a shoe. She also goes into Suzanne’s closet to draw black marker on one of her sweaters. Olive chooses these things “just to keep the self-doubt alive” in her daughter-in-law (74). Who is Olive to decide to vandalize and steal certain belongings of Suzanne in order keep intact the young woman’s arrogance? In her actions, Olive proves more audacious than her daughter-in-law. Speaking personally, I would not like to befriend a person who stole my underwear unknowingly from me. Strout warns those in search of friends to take care in choosing friends who think of themselves more highly than others.