Elizabeth Strout’s new ‘novel in stories’ brings to life a hardscrabble community on the coast of Maine...but Olive Kitteridge is provincial only in a literal sense … It manages to combine the sustained, messy investigation of the novel with the flashing insight of the short story. By its very structure, sliding in and out of different tales and different perspectives, it illuminates both what people understand about others and what they understand about themselves … Strout’s prose is quickened by her use of the ‘free indirect’ style, in which a third-person narrator adopts the words or tone a particular character might use … The pleasure in reading Olive Kitteridge comes from an intense identification with complicated, not always admirable, characters.
What you begin to realize, as these carefully crafted, individual pieces accumulate, is that together they shape the arc of a narrative, and that the narrative is nothing less than the whole of Olive Kitteridge's life. A novel, yes, in stories … As the 13 stories unfold – each one taking its time, thick with the well-observed details of ordinary lives and the nakedness of inner minds – Olive is revealed to us as a woman wounded, as well as wounding … There are glimmers of warmth, of human connection, in even the darkest of these stories. Strout's benevolence toward her characters forms a slender bridge between heartbreak and hope, a dimly glimpsed path through minefields of despair.
Here's a perfect example of a character you'd never be friends with, but whom you can't stop reading about: Her name is Olive Kitteridge, and she's the title character of Elizabeth Strout's book of short stories … Olive is a character who's as bad as you'd be if you let yourself — and that's partly what drives the book: You can't wait to see what she's going to do next … There's at least one secret in every story — and one life-changing moment. Maybe that's why this book delivers what you hardly ever get in a literary novel: suspense.