Olive Kitteridge

June 30, 2010

Well, this has been huge at my store. I’m guessing it’s been huge everywhere? I mostly picked it up ’cause I found a pretty cheap used copy at a bookstore in West Philly I’d name for you if I could remember. And it was good! Usually when I suck it up and read something popular I’m reminded about why book people tend to have better taste than television people. Like Jersey Shore was this hugely popular show, but I couldn’t get five minutes deep into before being like “I know these people, I avoid these people, I don’t want to watch them on TV.” Whereas when a book is popular there is usually SOMEthing to it.

So yeah. Maine! I am moving to Maine soon! I think I’d been only vaguely aware that this was set there before I picked it up, so that was nice. Although they’re pretty rural in the book and I’m gonna be in Portland. Still though, I’m not the New Englandest person you’re ever going to meet, but I’ve spent a minute there, and the New England stuff all rang true. And I think it’s pretty amazing how Ms. Strout sustained a whole book about the emotional and sexual lives of the AARP set; that’s pretty hardcore and I give her credit for engaging so directly with mortality, regret and loss. So well done there.

So… Elizabeth Strout is an MFA professor. You know my feelings about MFA programs. What this book reminded me was that, when you do all the MFA writing program things well- the telling details, the crushing epiphanies, the building tension- what you are doing is hiding the fact that these are the MFA writing program things. You make it look like there just happens to be a theme about how some bodies are big or fat and some are small or skinny, and like that’s something that’s just part of all the stories, that just happens to create a cohesive theme- instead of beating everybody over the head with it. So she does mostly a good job of camouflaging the MFAness of her writing, but sometimes she doesn’t.

Like, okay. Every time the outside world shows up, in the form of a yoga-doin’, soy milk drinkin’, meat avoiding young person? I don’t believe it. For a second. Maybe some people talk about their soy hot dogs this way, and drink lots of straight soy milk, but they’re not in my life. Which is a shame about this book! Otherwise it goes so well, but whenever one of these people that Ms. Kitteredge Just Doesn’t Understand shows up, I feel like I’m reading something I wrote when I was twenty and Very Interested In Showing Other Perspectives, in a pretty messed up way. “I’ve never talked to one, but I’m gonna write from the perspective of a Mexican immigrant!” Good luck with that, kid. So… yeah, so that was a shame.

It doesn’t ruin the book, though. It just keeps it from being a perfect book.

(this review is from my old goodreads account.)


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