Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and brutally honest with everyone except perhaps herself—not exactly the qualities you want in a friend. Yet that didn’t stop us from embracing the title character of Elizabeth Strout’s best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 novel-in-stories, Olive Kitteridge. For all her faults, Olive was, bizarrely, beloved.
But let’s not discuss her in past tense, because Strout is reprising her prickly protagonist in Olive, Again—much to the author’s own surprise. “I really thought I was done with her, and she with me,” Strout told The New Yorker. “But a few years ago I was in a European city, alone for a weekend, and she just showed up. That’s all I can say. She showed up with a force, the way she did the very first time, and I could not ignore her.”
Pits and All
Anyone who read the first book or caught the HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand knows Olive—a retired schoolteacher from small-town Maine—is impossible to ignore. From her imposing figure and ubiquitous black handbag to the outright awful treatment she doled out to others, including her tenderhearted husband, Henry. and sullen son, Christopher, Olive is a force to be reckoned with—or run from. This is what makes her enormous appeal so baffling, even to the woman who created her. “I do not know why Olive Kitteridge has resonated so much with people,” Strout said. “But one thought I’ve had is that she is very complicated—as most of us are—and her complications are so out there that perhaps people feel connected to her for that reason.”
So what “out there” antics can we expect this time around? Like its predecessor, Olive, Again is a series of interconnected tales that don’t always feature the Diva of Difficult front and center. Kirkus Reviews calls the stories, which focus on rupturing families, a “keening portrait of a world in which each of us is fundamentally alone and never truly knows even those we love the most.” But you will find Olive in sticky situations with Christopher and his new wife, Ann, and follow along as she makes it official with Jack, her sports car-driving beau. (Olive? Romance? Yes!) Most of all, you’ll appreciate Olive’s pure-if-persnickety brand of compassion—she’s the kind of tough cookie you want in your corner when the chips are down—and her forthright acceptance of life’s mysteries being beyond us all.