Generally I am not a huge fan of short stories collections, mainly because they are usually inconsistent. You will always find some stunning stories, some good ones and a couple of mediocre ones in the mix, and boy a terrible short story is even worse than a boring novel. Despite the fact that Olive Kitteridge is touted as a novel in stories (which it definitely is) it suffers from the same problems that afflict this genre.
In a nutshell the novel focuses on the live of the title character and how she interacts with different townsfolk. Sometimes it’s a cameo appearance and other times she is the centre of attention. This is where the weakness of the book lies.
Kitteridge is such a formidable and strong willed character that the stories which feature a glimpse of her suffer greatly because Strout cannot really come up with someone just as memorable. Kitteridge is a colossus always giving her opinion and sharing her views whether wanted or not (although she does show some reserve when around family) Whether it is her husband, Henry or an ex pupil (she is a retired Math teacher), Kitteridge has changed their lives in some way.
Like all good novels in short story format (I’m also thinking of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Tales of Firozsha Baag) there is an amount of progression and Olive and Henry age and experience happenings which befall elderly people. Strout’s writing style also has a classic feel to it, reminiscent of Steinbeck and it encapsulates the feeling of being old (at least how I see it) and this is what the book is fundamentally about ; changes – good or bad.
As I mentioned earlier there are highlights and I found the story ‘Security’ to be the best of the lot, where Kitteridge goes to New York and stays with her son for a couple of days and begins to realise that she too, is aging.
Although a Pulitzer prize winner i felt that the weaker stories (there are three) stopped the progression of the novel’s plot and made the reading experience drag. However once you get through them you’ll have an excellent novel in your hands and a main protagonist that will echo in your mind long after you’ve closed the book.