Olive Kitteridge (Paperback)

By Elizabeth Strout

Random House Trade, 9780812971835, 286pp.

Publication Date: September 30, 2008

Fall '09/Winter '10 Reading Group List

“The book discussion we had about Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in a little town in Maine, was one of the best we ever had. The reading group members were incredibly passionate about their love of the book and their love (and hatred) of Olive. We laughed and cried, and one member called us afterward and asked what we were going to read to get us that riled up again!”
— Deb McDonald, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA
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Description

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE - THE EMMY AWARD-WINNING HBO MINISERIES STARRING FRANCES MCDORMAND, RICHARD JENKINS, AND BILL MURRAY

In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer's eyes, it's in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama-desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

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 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 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.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY
People - USA Today - The Atlantic - The Washington Post Book World - Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Entertainment Weekly - The Christian Science Monitor - San Francisco Chronicle - Salon - San Antonio Express-News - Chicago Tribune - The Wall Street Journal

"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

From the Hardcover edition.


About the Author

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller; Abide with Me, a national bestseller; 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. Elizabeth Strout lives in New York City. From the Hardcover edition.


Praise For Olive Kitteridge

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2008 BY:

People
USA Today
The Atlantic
The Washington Post Book World
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Entertainment Weekly
The Christian Science Monitor
San Francisco Chronicle
Salon
San Antonio Express-News
Chicago Tribune
The Wall Street Journal



Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?
  2. Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?
  3. How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?
  4. Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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 re?ection of how she treats other people in town?
  9. Does it seem ?tting to you that Olive would not respond while others ridiculed her body and her choice of clothing at Christopher and Suzanne’s wedding?
  10. How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships?
  11. 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?
  12. 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?
  13. 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?
  14. In “Tulips” and in “Basket of Trips,” Olive visits people in dif?cult 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?
  15. In “Ship in a Bottle,” Julie is jilted by her ?ancé, 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?
  16. 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 ?rst child (and Henry’s ?rst grandchild)? Why does she seem so accepting initially, and what makes her less so as the story goes on?
  17. Was Christopher justi?ed in his ?ght with Olive in “Security”? Did he kick her out, or did she voluntarily leave? Do you think he and Ann are cruel to Olive?
  18. 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?
  19. 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 satis?ed with her life with David? What do you think are the reasons she can’t hold down a job?
  20. What elements of Olive’s personality are revealed in her relationship with Jack Kennison in “River”? How does their interaction re?ect changes in her perspective on her son? On the way she treated Henry? On the way she sees the world?
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