Syllable for syllable, it’s stunning work—arguably better than the original ... these stories create a world almost unbearably addictive for its beautiful, agonized truths ... wave upon wave of unflinching insight, delivered in language so clean it shines. Sentences flow in simplest words and clearest order—yet line after line hammers home some of the most complex human rawness you’ll ever read ... Strout dwells with uncanny immediacy inside the minds and hearts of a dazzling range of ages ... Olive, Again transcends and triumphs. The naked pain, dignity, wit and courage these stories consistently embody fill us with a steady, wrought comfort.
...Strout persuades us that Crosby matters, and so do its people ... More important, though, than Crosby having its share of the stuff of which flashier drama is made, is Strout’s careful attention to the humdrum, quotidian experience that gradually accretes grandeur simply by dint of going on and on through decades. Banal loss ...becomes tragic, and the pleasure of a haphazardly begun new friendship between two incontinent old women seems as redemptive as romantic love ... However you choose to classify them...the Olive collections have the amplitude and emotional subtlety of the most generously comprehensive novels. Within the span of these taut, laconic little tales there is room for characters to show feeling from several levels of their being – only some of which they are aware of. They develop. They change their minds ... Strout’s control of her narrative is so sure that she can manage the transition, deftly acknowledging its comedy, while allowing us as well to feel how moving is Olive’s inarticulate wonder. What a thing indeed! These new stories confirm that in Olive Kitteridge, Strout has created one of those rare characters – think of Falstaff, Becky Sharp, James Bond – so vivid and humorous that they seem to take on a life independent of the story framing them.
Olive Kitteridge, the deliciously funny and unforgettable miserabilist at the heart of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 novel that bore her name, fully deserves the sensitive and satisfying follow-up that Strout has written about her ... One of the strengths of Strout’s novel is that she realistically details the uncertainty and ambivalence, the revulsion and attraction, that these stubborn, no longer young people experience in each other’s company ... Ever empathic and intuitive, Strout delves into their begrudging romance ... Olive, Again doesn’t presume that the reader is familiar with Olive Kitteridge, and occasionally clunky recaps bring newcomers up to speed.
...the overall effect of Olive, Again is one of deep melancholy: what one character calls 'a stark feeling of dismalness' ... One of the remarkable things about Olive Kitteridge was the way in which its tone and mood seemed to bleed into your consciousness, so that while reading it every social interaction you had in the real world seemed charged with potential significance. Though there were dramatic moments in the novel...its uncanniness stemmed from the way it articulated those private moments of hidden devastation that mark most lives ... In Olive, Again this effect is more uneven and heavy-handed ... That said, Olive, Again is, in its way, a perfect novel: as compelling and unsettling as anything Strout has written. But its perfection is of a brittle kind, a kind that feels in the end wearying and even slightly manipulative. How little we can know each other, it says. How strange and temporary our feelings are. How slight and overwhelming they can be. How quickly they pass. How soon they end.
... as indelible and lifelike a creation as you’ll find in contemporary fiction ... a sequel that’s even better than the original. Olive, Again builds into the closest thing to an epic that Strout has fashioned. Strout, as ever, doesn’t reinvent the wheel here: again we read interrelated stories, Olive centered in some and skirting the edges of others, and again regular folks enter the spotlight, sometimes encountering the bizarre, other times reckoning with unrelenting sameness. But the novel welcomes several characters from Strout’s previous books, going back more than 20 years into her bibliography; they converge with Olive’s regulars, subtly, in a final chapter that ranks among the author’s most moving pieces of writing to date ... explores aging with profound grace ... Strout crafts each story expertly, but Olive, Again gains novelistic momentum as it expands, too ... For decades, Strout’s work has focused on the beauty of the ordinary, the drama and humor and tragedy lurking within it. Each life is meaningful, she so persuasively argues, and every once in a while we can brush that meaning up against one another. As we reach the end and make peace with lives imperfectly lived, that’s where the magic is.
Ms. Strout steers us away from the feel-good finish line of compassion and toward the stony terrain of objective truth ... It’s worth noting that while newcomers can still enjoy this book, Ms. Strout’s constant readers will get the most out of it ... Olive is a brilliant creation not only because of her eternal cantankerousness but because she’s as brutally candid with herself about her shortcomings as she is with others. Her honesty makes people strangely willing to confide in her, and the raw power of Ms. Strout’s writing comes from these unvarnished exchanges, in which characters reveal themselves in all of their sadness and badness and confusion ... The great, terrible mess of living is spilled out across the pages of this moving book. Ms. Strout may not have any answers for it, but she isn’t afraid of it either.
For Strout fans, it is thrilling enough to be back in Olive’s presence...but this thrill is compounded by the inclusion of Strout characters from earlier novels ... the novel is, in part, a series of lamentations, which gives it a sorrowful tone—as do the occasional allusions to suicide, which are shut away almost as swiftly as they arise ... Olive...considers 'the way people can love those they barely know, and how abiding that love can be, and also how deep that love can be.' Strout remains exceptionally gifted at plumbing those depths.
... just as wonderful as the original ... You don't have to have read Olive Kitteridge to appreciate Olive, Again, but you'll probably want to. Like a base coat of paint, it adds depth and helps the finish colors pop ... [Stout] continues to amaze ... A master of the story cycle form which Sherwood Anderson put his stamp on with Winesburg, Ohio, Strout has at this point pretty much out-Winesburged him with her cumulative, time-lapse portrait of the people of Crosby, Maine ... repeatedly probes the limits of tolerance and the range of human behavior, sometimes boldly ... poignantly reminds us that empathy, a requirement for love, helps make life 'not unhappy.'
As before, the narratives layer each other so the themes of poverty, shame, loneliness, motherhood, disappointment, love, grief and hope are deepened and reverberate throughout. By focusing a spotlight on the exquisite intimacies of these ordinary lives, Strout exposes the great universal themes of life with a laser precision that elevates the minutiae of their existences to something truly revelatory and extraordinary. It is not essential to have read Olive Kitteridge to appreciate Olive, Again as the work unquestionably stands alone, but, having done so will offer a deeper understanding of the later years of Olive’s life that are borne witness to in the second offering. Despite 10 years passing between both books, it is quite remarkable how seamless the transition is between them without any perceptible shift in tone or style. We find Olive exactly where we left her and you could finish Olive Kitteridge and begin Olive, Again a moment later without feeling like you’d missed a beat in her life. It is a testament to the incredible storytelling of Strout, the confident command she has over her work and the specific identity of a prose that is uniquely her own ... Strout never pulls any punches on the page and so we are confronted with the best and worst of the human condition, but always delivered with grace and empathy ... the cumulative effect of all this within the novel is to leave the reader with hope and a restored faith in the stubborn optimism and potential of the human heart.
Olive Kitteridge did not want for a sequel, but the result — charming, amusing, and consistently surprising — is a follow-up worthy of the original ... as usual in Strout’s stories, the craft is virtuosic and often risky ... Surprises wing in but always make a crazy kind of sense. Family secrets, sexual and violent, emerge in moments of wild intensity ... But the prose in Olive, Again is more relaxed than the firecracker descriptions, finely tuned ellipses, and whip-smart banter of its predecessor. It’s a more peaceful novel, recounting more aftermath than crisis ... the reader is granted a new intimacy with [Olive] ... But sometimes her frank introspection creeps past the edge of credibility. The Olive of Olive Kitteridge blamed others for her shortcomings. This Olive is almost masochistic in her ability to flay herself ... The sense of community that pervades Strout’s writing feels even more expansive when her novels converge, when the various Maines she has depicted with exquisite specificity turn out to be the same. It’s as if Strout is telling her readers that her mission in writing these books has been singular: to portray in luminous detail the messy, secretive, consequential lives of people in a small town.
... in this collection, [Olive] reveals a new vulnerability, recognizable from the original stories but heightened now, more searing. Her nurturing side is more pronounced as she navigates the indignities, fears, and disappointments of old age. There are complicated new layers of love, resentment, and forgiveness ... The people who share Olive’s hometown of Crosby, Maine, are as lonely and conflicted as ever, and some of the most wrenching stories in this collection aren’t directly Olive’s at all ... In all of these stories, Olive is a crucial force either in person or in spirit, and readers will want to seize every second of her waning life. Olive, Again is an essential partner to Olive Kitteridge, and the emotional impact of these new stories won’t easily fade.
The new book is a nostalgic return to Crosby, Maine, where Olive continues to poke around in the lives of her fellow townspeople ... None of the scenarios is particularly novel ... But the stories are rendered in such delicate turns that Strout is again able to portray the subtle heartbreaks that punctuate the mundanities of life. And none are more devastating than the ones Olive reckons with herself ... While Strout fills her protagonist’s life with exchanges and interactions, she underlines a poignant sense of disappointment. As Olive is forced to reflect on the meaning of her life in old age, she’s overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness–a symptom of living that is perhaps the most crushing of all.
... a journey rarely taken in fiction, and is involving and moving ... Strout’s development of Olive’s character in this period of her life, her losses and her small compensatory moments, feels fresh. I have not read about these experiences before, or at least not with so much personality and feeling.
The book is a collection of linked short stories...that allows the author to bend time and to explore the lives of what might seem to be minor characters ... One of the gifts of Strout’s fiction is how it opens the inner lives of her characters. In all the stories in Olive, Again, bitter regret and searing loneliness crash up against unexpected mercies and stubborn hope, with surprising but utterly believable results. Strout also writes with rare humor and fearlessness about aging ... If you’re feeling woozy from corny holiday movies, Olive, Again is just the astringent antidote.
As is her habit, Strout dips in and out of other lives in Crosby, her acute observational skills often right up there with Austen’s. In a few chapters Olive merely flits through, an ungainly butterfly, but Strout does not stint on telling her full story and the ending is particularly satisfying ... The language, pure smalltown America, is glorious ... It is fascinating to watch as Olive grows into her eighties, absolutely livid at the idea that she may need to buy Depend incontinence underwear.
It is those little big moments that make Olive, Again such a great read. The prose is gorgeous and flowing, wise and simple. Olive is delightful, her old age, a 'coming of age' of sorts, with humor and senior citizenship combining to make her the best version of her intensely human self ... And then there is this: You will end up in love with Olive because she is a ton of well-written fun. You’ll enjoy her musings and put-downs and her reflections.
This has always been Strout’s great strength: the respect she shows her characters, regardless of how they choose to face the world. More so than anyone writing today, Strout is able to give us, on the page, in all their frustrating and heartbreaking and engaging beauty, real people. Olive, herself, is testament to this ... In her 80s now, and twice-widowed, Olive [is] as ornery, endearing and wickedly funny as ever ... Strout magnificently exposes, along with the pang of regret, the pain of loss and the maddening barriers we erect to protect ourselves from the everyday letdowns of life, the true resilience and wonder of the human heart.
... engrossing but imperfect ... Strout’s world view emerges in plain-spoken, sometimes elegant, third-person prose ... The darkness of Strout’s vision is leavened by her belief in moments of grace, which may arrive in a slant of light, a sudden insight, or (best of all) a connection to another human being ... Nothing in Olive Kitteridge seemed extraneous. But when Olive, Again shifts away from its central characters, the linked-story technique begins to seem tiresome, even superfluous. Who are all these other people, we wonder, and why can’t we just get back to Olive and Jack and their fascinatingly flawed romance?
Strout vividly conveys the delicate balance that exists between the desire to leave home and the desperate need to return in order to discover the everlasting trauma of memory. Olive, Again is a formidable American narrative.
... bleaker, sadder, more achingly beautiful than its predecessor, and a magnificent achievement on its own terms ... Improbable and sustaining connections between the most unlikely of kindred spirits is one of Strout’s big themes here, and for the most part she does it beautifully ... 'Cleaning,' about an eighth-grade girl who touches her breasts for a voyeuristic old man (the husband of her teacher/employer) and is rewarded with envelopes stuffed with cash, is a rare misfire; it feels ostentatiously provocative and psychologically implausible ... Strout evokes the 'gaping bright universe of loneliness' and the terror of aging and dying so well that reading Olive, Again is at times a viscerally painful, even frightening experience. But she also gives us moments of startling poetic beauty and reminds us of the sustenance all around us.
... happily, for the most part, Strout breaks away from the customary sequel tropes, surprising us with the choices Olive makes, the consequences for her, their reverberations in her family, and the separate but parallel developments in the lives of her neighbors in Crosby, Maine. Olive, Again is in some ways—but not all—a surprising sort of sequel, just as Olive Kitteridge is a continually surprising person: blunt and gruff, but increasingly capable of both insight and empathy ... Strout manages to mostly pull back from the dangers of diminishment and too-easy sentiment that hover in the wings ... tells a collective story of personal connections and reconnections, against high odds. Olive’s movement, and that of the other characters, is toward acceptance of imperfection, toward understanding and sometimes forgiving large and small betrayals and cruelties.
Strout’s enormous strength is to reveal how these odd and surprising connections can spring up ... Strout is an uncomfortable writer and Olive Kitteridge is the ultimate unlikeable heroine ... Death stalks these pages and while Strout’s unsettling prose won’t be for everyone, she reveals how odd our own mortality is to each of us.
Strout’s small places have a distinctive cultural autonomy, a strong idea of themselves, even as their economy turns out to be fatally dependant on outside forces. Her stories have resonated so strongly in America because of the balancing act she more or less pulls off: bringing modern liberal values and an exacting critique of class and inequality to bear on subject matter buried deep in the foundations of America’s self-image, and which might be perceived as conservative ... Olive Kitteridge embodies Strout’s ambivalence ... Strout’s writing is often fuelled by indignation, but it’s directed at the injustices of class and poverty rather than patriarchy ... There’s a difficulty in sustaining a character as extravagant as Olive without her occasionally lapsing into a type; in Olive, Again it sometimes feels as though her scolding has become a routine, enjoyable rather than unsettling. The writing is fonder than before and more forgiving ... Strout’s treatment of their imperfect love and mutual adjustment is tender and unillusioned ... there are places elsewhere in Strout’s work when the accumulation of catastrophe only just avoids being comical. This is country gossip with its lurid secrets and schadenfreude; but it sometimes feels as though, when the prose flags, another sensational twist helps to revive it ... At best this nervy hypersensitivity generates something raw and electric...But [Strout] can resort too quickly to piling on the pain, delivering the shock and then offering the consolation – addressing her work to the longing and unappeasable child in all of us. Whether the reader resists or responds is a matter of taste and temperament, as well as tradition.
[Olive] drops her cutting observations with matter-of-fact, laser-like precision, sparing no one, then follows up with lovely, whiplash-inducing moments of empathy toward her neighbors, her distant son, and even, endearingly, herself. Caught up in scenes of great hilarity (a backseat childbirth) and bewildering grief, Olive may offer blunt honesty that defies societal norms, but her clarity is refreshing and never cruel ... Strout wrote that Olive forced her way back into Stout's consciousness long after the author thought she was done with her. Olive demanded Strout write these new stories. Of course Olive did that. It’s so…Olive. Thank goodness Olive prevailed. Exquisite.
Strout possesses an uncanny ability to focus on ordinary moments in her characters’ lives, bringing them to life with compassion and humor. Her characters could be our own friends or family, and readers can easily relate to their stories of love, damaged relationships, aging, loss and loneliness. Each phase of Olive’s life touches on a memory, real or imagined ... a remarkable collection on its own but will be especially enjoyed by those who loved Olive Kitteridge. It’s a book to immerse oneself in and to share.
Love, loss, regret, the complexities of marriage, the passing of time, and the astonishing beauty of the natural world are abiding themes, along with 'the essential loneliness of people' and the choices they make 'to keep themselves from that gaping darkness.' Unmissable, especially for readers who loved Olive Kitteridge.
As direct, funny, sad, and human as its heroine, Strout’s welcome follow-up to Olive Kitteridge portrays the cantankerous retired math teacher in old age ... Strout’s stories form a cohesive novel, both sequel and culmination, that captures, with humor, compassion, and embarrassing detail, aging, loss, loneliness, and love. Strout again demonstrates her gift for zeroing in on ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people to highlight their extraordinary resilience.
Parents are estranged from children, husbands from wives, siblings from each other in this keening portrait of a world in which each of us is fundamentally alone and never truly knows even those we love the most. This is not the whole story, Strout demonstrates with her customary empathy and richness of detail ... There’s no simple truth about human existence, Strout reminds us, only wonderful, painful complexity ... Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant. A thrilling book in every way.