If I could use one word to describe this book, it would probably be “boring.” “Awkward” is a close runner-up. I think Elizabeth Strout must be the type of person who is less of the entertainment school of writing and more of the vitamins school of writing. But, I am left wondering what nutritional value I got out of this. Mostly, it just seemed like a bunch of people sitting around being petty, judging other people’s Issues, and thinking about cheating on each other. Like, whoa, deep.
The structure of the book is a bunch of different short stories that all somehow reference this one bitchy lady, Olive Kitteridge. It’s not a bad structure if there was something you wanted to know about the person, but in itself the structure is more of a gimmick than anything. Alone, it is neither good nor bad, but it’s easy to get trapped in a gimmick and refuse to edit because you’re married to it. I feel like that’s what happened here. A few of the better stories only incidentally referenced Olive Kitteridge, and I think they could have made better (by which I mean more entertaining and containing a plot) overall stories than Olive’s. Maybe I am just not interested in her. She is the mean math teacher, controlling mother, self-absorbed wife, busybody neighbor. None of the ways this played out were particularly appalling, but they were not endearing either. She started out meh and stayed meh throughout. I guess there is some reference in her character to the frigidness of New England towns, and I feel equally indifferent about that.
But, okay, I did like this recurrent theme about not being afraid of our own hunger. The book probably explores desire, and the stories are probably all studies about human desire and how it expresses itself in different ways. I don’t know, maybe all books are about that in some ways, and I'd rather read Wuthering Heights if I'm going for desire. This had alcoholism, anorexia, suicide, LOADS of adultery (contemplation), runaways, food allergies, robbery, murder (contemplation), and probably other topics like that. And then it ends (I guess spoiler alert, but it’s not really like there is a plot to this book, so I don’t think it really spoils anything) with a sort of huu-uuh in a story about some people in their seventies thinking about having sex with each other and how they were assholes to their kids.
So, I don’t know. I’m going to give this two stars because it’s so boring. Even the robbery is boring. I didn't hate it as much as it sounds like I did, but it would be a lie if I said I enjoyed it. There are all of these bloated similes, too, which are just painful. I can’t think of an example now, but something like, “She gazed into her cup of coffee and then noticed on the counter crumbs of a muffin LIKE GRAINS OF THE SANDS OF TIME-IME-IME-IME.” What. Ever. I’m only exaggerating a little. Everything was like the ocean waves ebbing and flowing, etc.
I listened to this on audio, and it was also meh. Now that I’m looking at the cover, it seems oddly apt. When I first looked at it, I was like, what the fuck is that? And it seemed kind of interesting and complex. Then I realized it was just a boring leaf. Then I gazed at my coffee and noticed on the table the leaves of the book pages like the leaves of the book of time-ime-ime-ime. This business about the trappings of time was probably not literally in the book BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN.
When she would come back to the hunger thing, though, I liked that. It seems like a good point – not to be afraid of our own hunger. I don’t really know what it means, and I question whether Strout does either, but it sounds good.