Olive Kitteridge: Fiction

By Elizabeth Strout
Publisher:Random House Trade Paperbacks, (9/30/2008)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.06 out of 5 (17 Clubie's ratings)

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At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

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RobynBradley's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:1/28/2012


MoMo's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:8/22/2011


Book Junky's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:4/30/2010

Olive, so complex, so misunderstood... with these little snippets from other's perspectives we sure were able to get into your life, and see your softer side! Not that you needed one, as you are perfectly fabulous in your misunderstood way. Definitely a good book to discuss with a book club!

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Read and Feed's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:3/30/2010

Very Unleashable

pjmreads's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:3/15/2010

Very interestimg with one main person in all the different short stories


E's Reads's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:3/14/2010


Mildly Unleashable

CarolK's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:1/4/2010

I was totally surprised when I loved this book since it seemed like it might be a downer. I enjoyed everything about it from the writing style to the characters!


Sam's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:12/9/2009

I would love to see Olive Kitteridge made into a movie. This story is full of unique characters, each with their own problems, who are all somehow tied to the title character. Olive is an ornery retiree in a small town in Maine. A former school teacher and long time resident, she has interacted with the majority of the townspeople in some way or another. She can rarely see past her own mood swings to the tribulations of others. Aging and increasingly alone, Olive deals with the “abandonment” of her only son, and the decline of her husband’s health. Ultimately, there is a transformation in Olive that sparks hope in the reader, but the real moments of enlightenment occur in the chapters that focus on people outside of Olive’s immediate family. Former students quote her with respect, a mistress depends on her company, and a widow confides in her. This book gives an excellent perspective of one person’s life, as seen through their own eyes as well as the eyes of others. It really made me think, how does my opinion of myself differ from that of others?


Harriet's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:10/17/2009

Mildly Unleashable

kfdet's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:10/5/2009

Very Unleashable

Alice_Wonder's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:8/13/2009

This book is a well written collection of short stories centering around the theme of lonliness and human connection. The stories are set in or connected to Crosby, Maine and the character Olive Kitteridge, an outspoken and often grumpy retired teacher. Well, actually, some of the stories only briefly mention Olive. Some readers might find Olive to be unpleasant, but I like her honesty and acts of love and kindness. She struggles with her relationship with her adult son and with her widowhood which gives us insight into her at times uneven but very human personality. I like novels and usually I don't particularly like short stories. I suppose this is because I like lots of details so I really understand characters in stories. Sometimes I felt like the brief references to Olive in a couple of stories were just there so they could be included in this book.

Very Unleashable

Reese's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:8/10/2009

Olive Kittredge was an interesting read for me. Maybe it was because I had heard so many rave reviews and exclamations about the book that I expected to …what….walk away wowed. And I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was actually a good book, very well written, with the possibilities of some great characters. A book worth reading. I even read each story with anticipation of how Olive would show up and be involved. From a wave as a passing character in one story to being the heart of the story with all her flaws and humanity. The different stories on the various people and their lives in Olive’s town of Crosby, Maine were in themselves very poignant and interesting to read, so that is what I truly enjoyed. I wasn’t drawn to the character, Olive. I think we could have gotten to know her so much better and we were always left on the edge of her conflict. We start to get there towards the end of the book but then it was over. In fact, my favorite part in the book was the last couple of pages. No, not because it was the end of the book (and don’t go reading it before you get there!!) but because Olive finally came off the edge. (not ledge)

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Nick's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:7/30/2009

The book, Olive Kitteridge, is an all encompassing look at a complex woman. Here we get to see how Olive's life touches so many. Aside from the book drawing on a bit and being loosely tied together at times, Olive Kitteridge was a fascinating look into the minds and lives of the cast of characters in Olive's life and the role she played in their lives. And "Oh, godfrey" are there is a cast of characters! It kind of leaves you thinking EVERYONE is messed up in there own way, and everyone is normal. Aside the nice flicker of hope at the end, I did feel like I got a tad infected by Olive with crankiness. She is definitely NOT a bundle of sunshine, but by seeing her interludes with everyone we see a softer, more vulnerable Olive that is not apparent on the surface. The book was was interesting, but mostly just ok for me, though I highly doubt I am the target demographic. ;)

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Ceci's thoughts on "Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
updated on:7/29/2009

This was a well-written, absorbing read. I liked it, and it’s one of those books that stayed with me and that I liked even more as I continued to think about it after I finished reading it. The book consists of a collection of portraits of the characters populating a small town in Maine and follows the minor joys and upsets of their daily lives, as well as the more cataclysmic events. The focus is on Olive K. – each of the chapters is either directly from her perspective, or from another character’s, who has some connection to Olive. Some of my favorite chapters are about the characters that are further out of Olive’s orbit: e.g., her former student who returns to town as an adult and encounters Olive as he’s on the verge of a life altering decision; a couple in town who see Olive and her husband at a Christmas concert, the same night of a sad revelation in their marriage. Even these seemingly minor characters illuminate Olive’s story and character, and the constantly shifting points of view humanize her and undermine the impulse to simply label her as unlikable and write her actions off as unreasonable. Still, she is hard to like, and so for me this book does depend on the company Olive keeps. Every character is so well written, they could be a book in themselves. They are so well crafted and realistic they could walk out of the pages, and maybe that’s my one complaint. These people are a little too realistic . . . everyone is a walking bundle of damage and neuroses. This book could be a teaching text for future therapists!

Very Unleashable

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updated on:7/3/2009


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updated on:4/1/2009


"Olive Kitteridge: Fiction"
By Elizabeth Strout

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.06 out of 5 (17 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person? 

Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive? 

How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book? 

Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves? 

What freedoms do the residents of Crosby, Maine, experience in contrast with those who ?ee the town for bigger “ponds” (California, New York)? Does anyone feel trapped in Crosby, and if so, who? What outlets for escape are available to them?

Why does Henry tolerate Olive as much as he does, catering to her, agreeing with her, staying even-keeled when she rants and raves? Is there anyone that you tolerate despite their sometimes overbearing behavior? If so, why?

How does Kevin (in “Incoming Tide”) typify a child craving his father’s approval? Are his behaviors and mannerisms any way like those of Christopher Kitteridge? Do you think Olive reminds Kevin more of his mother or of his father?

In “A Little Burst,” why do you think Olive is so keen on having a positive relationship with Suzanne, whom she obviously dislikes? How is this a reflection of how she treats other people in town?

Does it seem fitting to you that Olive would not respond while others ridiculed her body and her choice of clothing at Christopher and Suzanne’s wedding?

How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships? 

Elizabeth Strout writes, “The appetites of the body were private battles” (“Starving,” page 89). In what ways is this true? Are there “appetites” that could be described as battles waged in public? Which ones, and why?

Why does Nina elicit such a strong reaction from Olive in “Starving”? What does Olive notice that moves her to tears in public? Why did witnessing this scene turn Harmon away from Bonnie?

In “A Different Road,” Strout writes about Olive and Henry: “No, they would never get over that night because they had said things that altered how they saw each other” (p. 124). What is it that Olive and Henry say to each other while being held hostage in the hospital bathroom that has this effect? Have you experienced a moment like this in one of your close relationships?

 In “Tulips” and in “Basket of Trips,” Olive visits people in difficult circumstances (Henry in the convalescent home, and Marlene Bonney at her husband’s funeral) in hopes that “in the presence of someone else’s sorrow, a tiny crack of light would somehow come through her own dark encasement” (p. 172). In what ways do the tragedies of others shine light on Olive’s trials with Christopher’s departure and Henry’s illness? How do those experiences change Olive’s interactions with others? Is she more compassionate or more indifferent? Is she more approachable or more guarded? Is she more hopeful or more pessimistic?

In “Ship in a Bottle,” Julie is jilted by her fiancé, Bruce, on her wedding day. Julie’s mother, Anita, furious at Bruce’s betrayal, shoots at him soon after. Julie quotes Olive Kitteridge as having told her seventh-grade class, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else” (p. 195). What do you think Olive means by this phrase? How does Olive’s life re?ect this idea? Who is afraid of his or her hunger in these stories?

In “Security,” do you get the impression that Olive likes Ann, Christopher’s new wife? Why does she excuse Ann’s smoking and drinking while pregnant with Christopher’s first child (and Henry’s first grandchild)? Why does she seem so accepting initially, and what makes her less so as the story goes on?

Was Christopher justified in his fight with Olive in “Security”? Did he kick her out, or did she voluntarily leave? Do you think he and Ann are cruel to Olive?

Do you think Olive is really oblivious to how others see her– especially Christopher? Do you think she found Christopher’s accusations in “Security” shocking or just unexpected?

What’s happened to Rebecca at the end of “Criminal”? Where do you think she goes, and why do you think she feels compelled to go? Do you think she’s satisfied with her life with David? What do you think are the reasons she can’t hold down a job?

What elements of Olive’s personality are revealed in her relationship with Jack Kennison in “River”? How does their interaction reflect changes in her perspective on her son? On the way she treated Henry? On the way she sees the world?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions

Olive gives herself a "little burst" by stealing a few of Dr. Sue's things and ruining a sweater of Dr. Sue's. Have you ever given yourself a "little burst" by messing with someone else like that? If so, share the details please!! (see p. 68 for big and little bursts discussion) 

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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection. The opening Pharmacy focuses on terse, dry junior high-school teacher Olive Kitteridge and her gregarious pharmacist husband, Henry, both of whom have survived the loss of a psychologically damaged parent, and both of whom suffer painful attractions to co-workers. Their son, Christopher, takes center stage in A Little Burst, which describes his wedding in humorous, somewhat disturbing detail, and in Security, where Olive, in her 70s, visits Christopher and his family in New York. Strout's fiction showcases her ability to reveal through familiar details—the mother-of-the-groom's wedding dress, a grandmother's disapproving observations of how her grandchildren are raised—the seeds of tragedy. Themes of suicide, depression, bad communication, aging and love, run through these stories, none more vivid or touching than Incoming Tide, where Olive chats with former student Kevin Coulson as they watch waitress Patty Howe by the seashore, all three struggling with their own misgivings about life. Like this story, the collection is easy to read and impossible to forget. Its literary craft and emotional power will surprise readers unfamiliar with Strout. (Apr.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
*Starred Review* “Hell. We’re always alone. Born alone. Die alone,” says Olive Kitteridge, redoubtable seventh-grade math teacher in Crosby, Maine. Anyone who gets in Olive’s way had better watch out, for she crashes unapologetically through life like an emotional storm trooper. She forces her husband, Henry, the town pharmacist, into tactical retreat; and she drives her beloved son, Christopher, across the country and into therapy. But appalling though Olive can be, Strout  manages to make her deeply human and even sympathetic, as are all of the characters in this “novel in stories.” Covering a period of 30-odd years, most of the stories (several of which were previously published in the New Yorker and other magazines) feature Olive as  their focus, but in some she is bit player or even a footnote while other characters take center stage to sort through their own fears and insecurities. Though loneliness and loss haunt these pages, Strout also supplies gentle humor and a nourishing dose of hope. People are sustained by the rhythms of ordinary life and the natural wonders of coastal Maine, and even Olive is sometimes caught off guard by life’s baffling beauty. Strout is also the author of the well-received Amy and Isabelle (1999) and Abide with Me (2006). --Mary Ellen Quinn --This text refers to the Hardcoveredition. 

Praise for Olive Kitteridge:

“Perceptive, deeply empathetic . . . Olive is the axis around which these thirteen complex, relentlessly human narratives spin themselves into Elizabeth Strout’s unforgettable novel in stories.”
–O: The Oprah Magazine 

“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her. . . . [Elizabeth Strout] constructs her stories with rich irony and moments of genuine surprise and intense emotion. . . . Glorious, powerful stuff.”
–USA Today

“Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. When she’s not onstage, we look forward to her return. The book is a page-turner because of her.”
San Francisco Chronicle

Olive Kitteridge still lingers in memory like a treasured photograph.”
–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Rarely does a story collection pack such a gutsy emotional punch.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“Strout animates the ordinary with astonishing force. . . . [She] makes us experience not only the terrors of change but also the terrifying hope that change can bring: she plunges us into these churning waters and we come up gasping for air.”
–The New Yorker 
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Elizabeth Strout is the author of Abide with Me, a national bestseller and Book Sense pick, and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker and O: The Oprah Magazine. She is on the faculty of the MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and lives in New York City.

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