Olive Kitteridge, wife, mother, school teacher, is the focus of Strout’s novel set in Crosby, Maine. It is from Olive’s quirky, assertive, frustrated, and unapologetic perspective that the author takes on serious themes involving learning from growing old, appreciation of life, and moments happy or sad which have the ability to change everything. Intricately interconnected among Olive’s personal struggles to find happiness with her husband Henry, and son Christopher, are similarly themed stories of other townspeople from Crosby, all of whom know Olive and Henry.
There are 13 chapters in the novel and each could be a separate story. But, when they are brought together one finds that in each case, the main character is touched by sadness. This sadness is experienced as a result of relationships with loved ones, all having ended by a loss of some kind. From the stories of people living in Crosby, the reader learns more about how Olive has developed into the person she is at present and how she grows to understand her aging self. A woman who, at first seems mean and bitter, becomes someone to feel empathy for.
Kevin is a former student of Olive. He moved away from Crosby in middle school after his mother committed suicide. Now he has come back to kill himself. Sitting in his car staring at the ocean, he sees Mrs. Kitteridge walk up to him and climb in the passenger seat. Olive still remembers not only his appearance after years have gone by, she recalls intricate details from his past. In each situation of people in turmoil, Olive is able to sense their condition. In Kevin’s case-she reveals something only her family members are aware of-her father also killed himself. Attempting to cope has been a burden which shaped the lives of both Kevin and Olive. The reader discovers the darkness Olive carries with her and has allowed to affect her husband and son, has been in part, the result of the loss of her parent.
In each example of a Crosby person experiencing loss, Olive is the first to point out that bad things are no surprise in life. As she and Henry age, she is aware that something bad is bound to happen to one of them sooner or later. But when Henry has a stroke and is left mute and blind, Olive is left alone for the first time in many years. Her relations with her son are strained and she can’t admit to herself that this is due to her own inadequacies as a mother. She begins to come to realizations about the nature of life and time as she tries to make due on her own.
The character of the elderly Olive becomes symbolic of what we all have the potential to become if we are not careful with our lives and relationships. For Olive, time crawls as her misery becomes progressively more severe. Her loneliness bottoms out and having no will to live, she considers committing suicide. All she can do is think about little moments gone by. ‘Day-after-day unconsciously squandered.’ Talking to her son, Olive thinks of how unwise he is, how much he will learn as he ages. She is ultimately a good person who looks back on her life feeling truly sorry for some of the things she has done.
Perhaps unrealistically, Olive is given one last chance to build a relationship with a new man. Despite having wasted a lifetime complaining and not appreciating what she had, in the end she must finally learn to accept people for who they are. As a woman who has learned many lessons, Olive conveys the idea that there are things people will never understand about the world.
Through the voice of Olive, Elizabeth Strout relates to readers of all ages about universal subjects. Most of the private thoughts of Olive and others in this text are things all people think, then keep to themselves out of pride or fear. These most isolated and remote thoughts are the ones which become the most enjoyable and captivating to read. One day we will all grow old. We each hope we’ll have no regrets, of course this is not possible.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Elizabeth Strout’s website: http://elizabethstrout.com/books/olive-kitteridge/