Sometimes I read something that’s so simple that I wonder why I didn’t think of it first. Olive Kitteridge (Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 2009)is a novel in 13 short stories. Olive is the central character and appears in each story, but often in a peripheral way, or just in a few lines. She’s a New England native, and seemed as familiar to me as my own hands: a raw mass of sensitivities, stubbornness and insight. The stories within a story are the perfect structure for the way we come to know her – circling around the edges, getting flashes of illumination. The simplicity is deceptive, of course – it takes tremendous skill to exercise such a light yet intimate touch, to create a vivid portrait by filling in the background. Strout makes this look so clean and effortless, as if she’s just dipped an oar into the river of story and come up with a town, fully formed.
Olive Kitteridge is often dark, but there’s no sense of oppressive heaviness here, and an extended metaphor of growth and gardening lends a sense of hope and trying again to the stories. I loved it.