With Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout delivers exactly what book clubs across the globe have been wanting – more of that surly and cantankerous, but remarkably lovable, Olive Kitteridge.
Strout returns to Crosby, Maine and picks up where Olive Kitteridge left off, offering Olive a second chance at marriage, family relationships, friendship and community. Described as a novel but (as before) told in connected stories, we get a glimpse of the people of Crosby and with context afforded by the span of time.
Within these pages:
- Olive gets a pass on not having brought a gift to a shower when she delivers the baby of one of the guests in her car.
- A young girl amasses a small fortune by capitulating to a voyeur, but then loses it to a poor choice for a hiding place.
- Olive tries to renew a relationship with her son and his wife and explores if perhaps their son, Henry – named for Olive’s deceased husband – is the key to a new start.
- A daughter comes to terms with the secrets her parents kept, the reality of unhappiness in marriage (including her own) as well as the unsavory source of the inheritance her father leaves her.
- What Olive considered is a brush with fame via a local semi-celebrity turns into the ultimate betrayal.
- A civil war re-enactor finds peace for the war in his home by dividing it with yellow duct tape. However, he and his wife find themselves in an usual place – on the same side of the battle – when their youngest daughter announces she’s starring in a documentary about her very unusual career.
Even when Olive isn’t front and center of the narrative – but especially when she is – we see her wrestling with an unappreciated bent toward truth-telling and letting others attend to meeting her emotional needs. We also see Olive reaching out with compassion to those who are slighted by others.
Finally, just before signing off, Strout offers her loyal readers a cameo from a prior novel, which I loved.
Because of HBO’s miniseries of Olive Kitteridge, I could not stop picturing Frances McDormand as I read Olive, Again. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the time. It is as if Olive was created for her, and I hope we’ll see a second miniseries from this group of stories.
It isn’t often that returning to a well-loved character will live up to its original affinity – and for this reason, I’m typically not a fan of sequels. Olive, Again is anything but disappointing. Rather, the maturation of Olive and her circle will deepen discussions and broaden the analysis of life and death, love and animosity, and the struggles that we call the human experience.
Bravo, Ms. Strout! And on behalf of book clubs around the globe, thank you.
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