Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

by Elizabeth Strout

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804194785
Publisher: Diversified Publishing
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller; Abide with Me, a national bestseller; and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker and O: The Oprah Magazine. Elizabeth Strout lives in New York City.

Hometown:

Brooklyn, New York

Date of Birth:

January 6, 1956

Place of Birth:

Portland, Maine

Education:

B.A., Bates College, 1977; J.D., Syracuse College of Law, 1982

Read an Excerpt

Pharmacy
 
For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold.
 
The pharmacy was a small two-story building attached to another building that housed separately a hardware store and a small grocery. Each morning Henry parked in the back by the large metal bins, and then entered the pharmacy’s back door, and went about switching on the lights, turning up the thermostat, or, if it was summer, getting the fans going. He would open the safe, put money in the register, unlock the front door, wash his hands, put on his white lab coat. The ritual was pleasing, as though the old store—with its shelves of toothpaste, vitamins, cosmetics, hair adornments, even sewing needles and greeting cards, as well as red rubber hot water bottles, enema pumps—was a person altogether steady and steadfast. And any unpleasantness that may have occurred back in his home, any uneasiness at the way his wife often left their bed to wander through their home in the night’s dark hours—all this receded like a shoreline as he walked through the safety of his pharmacy. Standing in the back, with the drawers and rows of pills, Henry was cheerful when the phone began to ring, cheerful when Mrs. Merriman came for her blood pressure medicine, or old Cliff Mott arrived for his digitalis, cheerful when he prepared the Valium for Rachel Jones, whose husband ran off the night their baby was born. It was Henry’s nature to listen, and many times during the week he would say, “Gosh, I’m awful sorry to hear that,” or “Say, isn’t that something?”
 
Inwardly, he suffered the quiet trepidations of a man who had witnessed twice in childhood the nervous breakdowns of a mother who had otherwise cared for him with stridency. And so if, as rarely happened, a customer was distressed over a price, or irritated by the quality of an Ace bandage or ice pack, Henry did what he could to rectify things quickly. For many years Mrs. Granger worked for him; her husband was a lobster fisherman, and she seemed to carry with her the cold breeze of the open water, not so eager to please a wary customer. He had to listen with half an ear as he filled prescriptions, to make sure she was not at the cash register dismissing a complaint. More than once he was reminded of that same sensation in watching to see that his wife, Olive, did not bear down too hard on Christopher over a homework assignment or a chore left undone; that sense of his attention hovering—the need to keep everyone content. When he heard a briskness in Mrs. Granger’s voice, he would step down from his back post, moving toward the center of the store to talk with the customer himself. Otherwise, Mrs. Granger did her job well. He appreciated that she was not chatty, kept perfect inventory, and almost never called in sick. That she died in her sleep one night astonished him, and left him with some feeling of responsibility, as though he had missed, working alongside her for years, whatever symptom might have shown itself that he, handling his pills and syrups and syringes, could have fixed.
 
“Mousy,” his wife said, when he hired the new girl. “Looks just like a mouse.”
 
Denise Thibodeau had round cheeks, and small eyes that peeped through her brown-framed glasses. “But a nice mouse,” Henry said. “A cute one.”
 
“No one’s cute who can’t stand up straight,” Olive said. It was true that Denise’s narrow shoulders sloped forward, as though apologizing for something. She was twenty-two, just out of the state university of Vermont. Her husband was also named Henry, and Henry Kitteridge, meeting Henry Thibodeau for the first time, was taken with what he saw as an unself-conscious excellence. The young man was vigorous and sturdy-featured with a light in his eye that seemed to lend a flickering resplendence to his decent, ordinary face. He was a plumber, working in a business owned by his uncle. He and Denise had been married one year.
 
“Not keen on it,” Olive said, when he suggested they have the young couple to dinner. Henry let it drop. This was a time when his son—not yet showing the physical signs of adolescence—had become suddenly and strenuously sullen, his mood like a poison shot through the air, and Olive seemed as changed and changeable as Christopher, the two having fast and furious fights that became just as suddenly some blanket of silent intimacy where Henry, clueless, stupefied, would find himself to be the odd man out.
 
But standing in the back parking lot at the end of a late summer day, while he spoke with Denise and Henry Thibodeau, and the sun tucked itself behind the spruce trees, Henry Kitteridge felt such a longing to be in the presence of this young couple, their faces turned to him with a diffident but eager interest as he recalled his own days at the university many years ago, that he said, “Now, say. Olive and I would like you to come for supper soon.”
 
He drove home, past the tall pines, past the glimpse of the bay, and thought of the Thibodeaus driving the other way, to their trailer on the outskirts of town. He pictured the trailer, cozy and picked up—for Denise was neat in her habits—and imagined them sharing the news of their day. Denise might say, “He’s an easy boss.” And Henry might say, “Oh, I like the guy a lot.”
 
He pulled into his driveway, which was not a driveway so much as a patch of lawn on top of the hill, and saw Olive in the garden. “Hello, Olive,” he said, walking to her. He wanted to put his arms around her, but she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away. He told her the Thibodeaus were coming for supper. “It’s only right,” he said.
 
Olive wiped sweat from her upper lip, turned to rip up a clump of onion grass. “Then that’s that, Mr. President,” she said. “Give your order to the cook.”
 
On Friday night the couple followed him home, and the young Henry shook Olive’s hand. “Nice place here,” he said. “With that view of the water. Mr. Kitteridge says you two built this yourselves.”
 
“Indeed, we did.”
 
Christopher sat sideways at the table, slumped in adolescent gracelessness, and did not respond when Henry Thibodeau asked him if he played any sports at school. Henry Kitteridge felt an unexpected fury sprout inside him; he wanted to shout at the boy, whose poor manners, he felt, revealed something unpleasant not expected to be found in the Kitteridge home.
 
“When you work in a pharmacy,” Olive told Denise, setting before her a plate of baked beans, “you learn the secrets of everyone in town.” Olive sat down across from her, pushed forward a bottle of ketchup.
 
“Have to know to keep your mouth shut. But seems like you know how to do that.”
 
“Denise understands,” Henry Kitteridge said.
 
Denise’s husband said, “Oh, sure. You couldn’t find someone more trustworthy than Denise.”
 
“I believe you,” Henry said, passing the man a basket of rolls. “And please. Call me Henry. One of my favorite names,” he added. Denise laughed quietly; she liked him, he could see this.
 
Christopher slumped farther into his seat.
 
Henry Thibodeau’s parents lived on a farm inland, and so the two Henrys discussed crops, and pole beans, and the corn not being as sweet this summer from the lack of rain, and how to get a good asparagus bed.
 
“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Olive, when, in passing the ketchup to the young man, Henry Kitteridge knocked it over, and ketchup lurched out like thickened blood across the oak table. Trying to pick up the bottle, he caused it to roll unsteadily, and ketchup ended up on his fingertips, then on his white shirt.
 
“Leave it,” Olive commanded, standing up. “Just leave it alone, Henry. For God’s sake.” And Henry Thibodeau, perhaps at the sound of his own name being spoken sharply, sat back, looking stricken.
 
“Gosh, what a mess I’ve made,” Henry Kitteridge said.
 
For dessert they were each handed a blue bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sliding in its center. “Vanilla’s my favorite,” Denise said.
 
“Is it,” said Olive.
 
“Mine, too,” Henry Kitteridge said.
 

Reading Group Guide

1. Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?

2. Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?

3. How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?

4. Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?

5. What freedoms do the residents of Crosby, Maine, experience in contrast with those who flee the town for bigger “ponds” (California, New York)? Does anyone feel trapped in Crosby, and if so, who? What outlets for escape are available to them?

6. Why does Henry tolerate Olive as much as he does, catering to her, agreeing with her, staying even-keeled when she rants and raves? Is there anyone that you tolerate despite their sometimes overbearing behavior? If so, why?

7. How does Kevin (in “Incoming Tide”) typify a child craving his father’s approval? Are his behaviors and mannerisms any way like those of Christopher Kitteridge? Do you think Olive reminds Kevin more of his mother or of his father?

8. In “A Little Burst,” why do you think Olive is so keen on having a positive relationship with Suzanne, whom she obviously dislikes? How is this a reflection of how she treats other people in town?

9. Does it seem fitting to you that Olive would not respond while others ridiculed her body and her choice of clothing at Christopher and Suzanne’s wedding?

10. How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships?

11. Elizabeth Strout writes, “The appetites of the body were private battles” (“Starving,” page 89). In what ways is this true? Are there “appetites” that could be described as battles waged in public? Which ones, and why?

12. Why does Nina elicit such a strong reaction from Olive in “Starving”? What does Olive notice that moves her to tears in public? Why did witnessing this scene turn Harmon away from Bonnie?

13. In “A Different Road,” Strout writes about Olive and Henry: “No, they would never get over that night because they had said things that altered how they saw each other” (p. 124). What is it that Olive and Henry say to each other while being held hostage in the hospital bathroom that has this effect? Have you experienced a moment like this in one of your close relationships?

14. In “Tulips” and in “Basket of Trips,” Olive visits people in difficult circumstances (Henry in the convalescent home, and Marlene Bonney at her husband’s funeral) in hopes that “in the presence of someone else’s sorrow, a tiny crack of light would somehow come through her own dark encasement” (p. 172). In what ways do the tragedies of others shine light on Olive’s trials with Christopher’s departure and Henry’s illness? How do those experiences change Olive’s interactions with others? Is she more compassionate or more indifferent? Is she more approachable or more guarded? Is she more hopeful or more pessimistic?

15. In “Ship in a Bottle,” Julie is jilted by her fiancé, Bruce, on her wedding day. Julie’s mother, Anita, furious at Bruce’s betrayal, shoots at him soon after. Julie quotes Olive Kitteridge as having told her seventh-grade class, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else” (p. 195). What do you think Olive means by this phrase? How does Olive’s life reflect this idea? Who is afraid of his or her hunger in these stories?

16. In “Security,” do you get the impression that Olive likes Ann, Christopher’s new wife? Why does she excuse Ann’s smoking and drinking while pregnant with Christopher’s first child (and Henry’s first grandchild)? Why does she seem so accepting initially, and what makes her less so as the story goes on?

17. Was Christopher justified in his fight with Olive in “Security”? Did he kick her out, or did she voluntarily leave? Do you think he and Ann are cruel to Olive?

18. Do you think Olive is really oblivious to how others see her– especially Christopher? Do you think she found Christopher’s accusations in “Security” shocking or just unexpected?

19. What’s happened to Rebecca at the end of “Criminal”? Where do you think she goes, and why do you think she feels compelled to go? Do you think she’s satisfied with her life with David? What do you think are the reasons she can’t hold down a job?

20. What elements of Olive’s personality are revealed in her relationship with Jack Kennison in “River”? How does their interaction reflect changes in her perspective on her son? On the way she treated Henry? On the way she sees the world?

Customer Reviews

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Olive Kitteridge 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 782 reviews.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Strout has crafted a series of short stories revolving around Olive Kitteridge, a retired math teacher in a small town along Maine's coast. In many of the stories she is barely present, yet is always an influence on the characters. Like her or loathe her, the reader cannot be indifferent to Olive, or totally unsympathetic. One of the most intense and memorable stories is "A Different Road", about a traumatic experience in which Olive falls briefly in love with a most unlikely character. Olive's dysfunctional relationships with just about everyone, especially her husband and son, are often ineffably sad, but with occasional hints of redemption. Each story is completely absorbing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well writen, well described characters. Sad stories that leave you feeling sadder than the characters in the end. I kept looking for what was holding the stories together and hoped for something that made it worthwhile to read. I suppose it is realistic and somewhat poetic. But it would have been nice to have seen one story end happily.
DEVILICIOUS More than 1 year ago
A life span of Olive, a reserved school teacher, and her dysfunctional relationships in 13 short tales. The reader delves deeply into her very soul. The supporting characters, Henry Kitteridge, her husband, the complete opposite in character, who is an out going pharmacist, their son, Christopher, a podiatrist, daughter-in-law, Suzanne, all play their roles full of human emotion. These are multi-dimensional, complex, interesting, flawed characters,and how they develop over time. Living in a New England village, they run the gamut of life experiences, good and bad. This is an insightful, profound, moving and thought-provoking look into family conflicts and loss. No life is insignificant! Elizabeth Stout is a master!
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
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. 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.
cotton25 More than 1 year ago
This book has everything - well developed and complex characters, interesting plot, great method of weaving the characters into the story, meaningful messages, but most of all, the writing is truly excellent. Don't fool yourself into thinking that good writing is easy to come by as a reader. A delicious, vivid book like this is a treat.
ReneIF More than 1 year ago
The characters and the setting creates the story. It's impossible to not identify with her characters - whether it's Olive or any one of the folks she encounters. She's not a very likeable character but all the pieces of what she's made of, changes one's reaction. It's so easy to identify with her about events that we don't even think to put into words. The book is made up of vignettes that come together to form the story. Strout's writing style and use of language is outstanding. She knows how to touch the emotional spots that lay buried. I was glued to the book from start to finish. I highly recommend this book. Excellent choice for book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters are sad, dreary people. The writer has talent in describing scenes, characters, etc., but she desperately needs inspiration. Each story leaves you with a yucky feeling about life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THE BOOK WANDERS THROUGH MANY DIFFERENT CHARACTERS WITH OLIVE THREADING HER WAY. MANY THINGS DO NOT CONNECT. I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THIS BOOK.
NellReads More than 1 year ago
This book is a collection of short stories, something I usually avoid reading. However, using a central character to unify the stories was effective and gives readers an opportunity to see Olive from several points of view. She was a main character in some stories and peripheral in others. I applaud the author for creating a character who was not easily likeable. Sometimes she was crass and overbearing, at others caring, concerned even gentle. As the stories unfolded her complexity was revealed. By the end of the book, I found much to admire in Olive. She persevered through whatever came her way. The interwoven stories also illustrate how individual lives are intertwined in a small town.
NYBeachgal More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure I can write a review of this book that does it justice--it's truly a remarkable read. However, I can say that I have lately been quite an escapist in my reading, feeling inclined to read only hopeful and happy books and avoid stories that emphasize the enormous amount of pain that seems to exist in our world today. This book is not one of those "hopeful and happy" ones, at first glance. I had to read it for my book club, and though I loved the concept (a series of short stories featuring crusty Mainers), I was dismayed to find that every story stripped away the layers that hide our true selves and true lives from others, and revealed a lot of blackness underneath. There was some light and hope in the stories, such as the way three neighbors conspire to help a child and the love two find in the process in "Starving," but overall, the tone is neither light, nor happy. It is not, however, lacking in hope, and when I got to the end, I found that Strout had created a satisfying (and seemingly, realistic) balance between illustrating the sadness of our lives and throwing a light on the perfect beauty of finding kinship, joy, and comfort in spite of it. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who are "getting on in years" as a way of finding our own balanced views of old age, relationships, and the possibility of change and finding happiness in the midst of sorrow.
Animal-Lover More than 1 year ago
A book of seemingly disparate chapters at first, this stunningly beautiful story of the human soul comes together in a touching human way. Olive, her family, & her community are woven together in despair, courage, love, nastiness, mental illness, forgiveness, & family ties. It is the human condition in all it's complexity, messiness, & beauty. Yet it's told in a simple & touching way that draws the reader in. At times I held my breath, not knowing what would happen next; other times, I cried with Olive; & many times I wanted to scream at Olive in frustration. There's a little Olive in all of us.
Ronrt1986 More than 1 year ago
I just don't understand why so many authors are leaning towards creating FICTION books like this. I have boredom and depression in my own life, I don't need to read a fictional story about it, thank you very much. I'm interested in escaping the real world, becoming inspired, and taking away something meaningful from a book. Not only was this book gloomy, it skipped all around, introducting too many characters who I could care less about in the end, and elaborating on endless irrelevant situations that never seemed to tie together. Save your time and money and read Kristin Hannah's books for feel good stories that change you for the better.
litlover4 More than 1 year ago
This brings back a time when neighbors were neighbors, and looked out for one another good or bad. Yet the stories remain relevant. I liked the approach of having one character showing influence in each chapter; sometimes being the main character and sometimes not. Very sweet without being sappy. Every emotion is covered here, without judgement. Character development was great! I would know them if I met them. Easy to read and hard to put down.
LCDENNER More than 1 year ago
This book started slow for me and every chapter I thought "sheesh this is a little depressing". But, the more I read, the more I was engrossed in this small town and the people who lived there. Each of the chapters (short stories) integrate Olive as either the main character or as a passerby and tell her story as well as the stories of other townsfolk. Olive comes alive in a sometimes indirect but always, poignant way. Olive Kitteredge will anger and infuriate as well as endear and move you. She is not a character to be reckoned with. By the end of the book I was cheering for Olive and wanted the best for her even after despising her for most of the story. Olive made me laugh and cry and I was sad to part with her by the end of the book.
FlashSR More than 1 year ago
Ive seen this book for months, made a judgement that it was a lightweight feel good novel with a feisty older woman at its center, and avoided it. Wrong! Another reminder of what our "judgements" can keep us from enjoying. The writing in Olive Kitteridge is both sublime and spot on down to earth accurate. True, there is a feisty older woman at the heart of the book, but how limiting to leave her description as such. Her peceptions of the people in her small town, her own emotional agonies and delights are just two beautifully drawn aspects of humanity that are found in this book. The characters bring a life force to the reader that I am sure will resonate many times throughout the reading of this powerful, little book.
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I thought Olive Kitteridge was an okay book. I liked her husband Henry; however I wanted to smother Olive with a pillow. She was mean to Susan and she destroyed some her clothes. It also seemed like many people in Crosby Maine were depressed. I liked Pharmacy, Tulips, Basket, and Winter Concert. The Piano Player was a very depressing story. It was interesting to see how many lives were touched by Olive Kitteridge. It was too bad that she couldn't realize that former students were touched in a positive way; thereby gaining happiness from that. The bottom line is that Olive K was a bitter woman for much of her life.
JorieS More than 1 year ago
As a retired teacher, I thought this book dealt with the soft and hardened sides of teachers. As a mother, I appreciated the guilt felt by mistakes made with offspring. As a person heading towards my senior years, Olive made mistakes for me that I hope to avoid.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book tells the hard truths about aging, loss of love and family. the character development is superb despite the annoying "short story" format. these aren't exactly short stories and yet it not exactly a regular novel. a failed attempt, style wise, IMO but the content is first rate.
FrenchFry50 More than 1 year ago
What a mass of contradictions in the character of Olive Kitteridge. In this series of short stories we see many, many aspects of her -- and everytime I thought I had her figured out, 'pegged', the author would reveal another side of Olive. She was loving and hateful, knowing and clueless, progressive and traditional, oblivious and self-aware. Olive Kitteridge reminded me of many women I knew in the early 60's with her need to keep up appearances and the seething frustration underneath -- and she's like no one I've ever met all at the same time. But, maybe, she's really all of us, trying to figure things out, keep up a good public face, keep our fears private, and still leave a mark on the world... I loved this book and I didn't expect to. I loved this character -- and I didn't want to. The writing is wonderful and the characters will stay with you -- what happened to them after their stories were finished? I will read this book again and recommend it to everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the simplicity of her characters. Each persons emotions and complexities were splashed onto the page. Bravo.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good read.... seen seen more of myself in Olive then I cared to. Some food for thought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There were sections in this book that hit home a little too closely, and for me, I noticed that I get older, a little bit of Olive pops up in me, as I think it does in many of us. Though far from perfect in so many ways, this character influences those around her in ways she is unaware, and in every story of the different family situations, her name or her physical person shows up. I don't want to say much more except to say that it is worth the read and the poignant tear or two. Horribly sad, no, but it is a very human story, and I am thankful to my book club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the greatest American novels ever written! I truly believe this will eventually become a classic in the tradition of Willa Cather,  Harper Lee, Edith Wharton and, just to be fair, Truman Capote. A sensitive, beautiful , touching, Very American Novel ....
VeronicaK89 More than 1 year ago
I really could not get into this book. So many things about it bothered me. I know a lot of people really enjoy it and enjoy Strout's writing but it just didn't do it for me. I didn't like Olive and I was ecstatic to get to the end of the book.
TLeopard More than 1 year ago
This was a beautifully written, interesting, couldn't-put-it-down book. The writer captured how one person can have such vastly different impacts on different people lives. Same person - different actions & reactions. Fascinating.