I’ve been engrossed in this collection of short stories, most of them set in a small coastal town in Maine and all connected in some way to the central character, Olive Kitteridge. Olive, a retired high-school teacher, is fascinatingly awful – irritable, moody, impatient and highly critical of just about everyone she knows, including her sweet, long-suffering husband, Henry. Olive is an intelligent and perceptive woman and she can be compassionate to those in need of comfort – a suicidal former student, a young stranger with anorexia, a newcomer to town who’s recently bereaved. However, she’s also tragically incapable of seeing her own flaws and is baffled when her son chooses to move to the other side of the continent to get away from her. There’s some beautiful descriptive writing and lots of thoughtful commentary on the complex ways people behave and relate to one another. I must admit it does get a bit grim, what with all the characters being cheated on and abandoned and wanting to kill themselves, but it does end with a suggestion of hope, with Olive musing:
“… if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.
Her eyes were closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude – and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet.”
Recommended for those who like the short stories of Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood.