Review: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Great news for Olive Kitteridge fans — author Elizabeth Strout has published a sequel and it is fantastic.  Olive, Again is written in Strout’s signature style of introducing new characters in each chapter so that the book feels like connected short stories rather than a novel.

The sequel begins with Olive mourning the death of her husband and struggling to maintain a relationship with her son Christopher and her grandchildren.

Actually – and this is maybe the one weak point in the book – it opens with a character, Jack Kennison, who isn’t terribly sympathetic, based on his attitudes towards his gay daughter and recently deceased wife.  To begin this book with a character who barely knows Olive kind of threw me.  But I’m glad I kept reading.  The second chapter begins with “Two days earlier, Olive Kitteridge had delivered a baby” and from there on I couldn’t put it down.  Strout dives right in with what is absolutely the best description of a baby shower I’ve read.

I have yet to read a book by Elizabeth Strout that didn’t have me highlighting passages all over the place.  This one was no exception.

It was as though waves swung her up and then down, tossing her high – high – and then the darkness came from below and she felt terror and struggled.  Because she saw that her life – her life, what a silly foolish notion, her life – that her life was different, might possibly be very different or might not be different at all, and both ideas were unspeakably awful to her, except for when the waves took her high and she felt such gladness, but it did not last long, and she was down again, deep under the waves, and it was like that – back and forth, up and down, she was exhausted and could not sleep.

What is this book about?  My first thought is: everything.  Strout writes in a deceptively straightforward style that covers so much that is important and real.  It’s about life in the small town of Crosby, Maine.  It’s primarily about aging, and parents’ relationships with their children, and marriage and death and second chances.  It’s particularly poignant in that Olive’s point of view is that of a woman in her seventies and eighties, and that’s a perspective we rarely get in fiction.

Olive is my favorite kind of character; she’s complicated and flawed.  She can be kind but she’s also stubborn and judgmental.  She’s not nice, and she’s difficult to get to know.  I realize that not everyone likes Olive, and if you’re one of those readers, this book might not be for you.  But I loved it.

That’s not to say this is an easy read; there are parts that made me uncomfortable but Strout never sugar-coats.  I was also sad that I didn’t find out more about what happened to some of the characters.

The truth is that Olive did not understand why age had brought with it a kind of hard-heartedness toward her husband. But it was something she had seemed unable to help, as though the stone wall that had rambled along between them during the course of their long marriage – a stone wall that separated them but also provided unexpected dips of moss-covered warm spots where sunshine would flicker between them in a sudden laugh of understanding – had become tall and unyielding, and not providing flowers in its crannies but some ice storm frozen along it instead.

It’s been a little while since I read Olive Kitteridge, and I wish I’d read them closer together, but I don’t think it affected my understanding of the book.  I’m thinking that each chapter in this book introduces someone who is new to the story, and Strout covers Olive’s past well.

This book made me think, not only about my own marriage and family and getting older, but about how I treat the people I interact with every day.  Because if crusty old Olive can take the time to stop and listen to someone, shouldn’t I?

Note: I received an advanced review copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Random House.  The book publishes today, October 15, 2019.

  5 comments for “Review: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

  1. October 20, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    I thought Olive Kittridge a terrific book, but for some reason I haven’t warmed to the idea of reading this one–Olive is crusty and complicated, and I have to be in the right mood to share time with her. Your review did spark my interest, though, and I think I will officially put this on the TBR list.

    >Because if crusty old Olive can take the time to stop and listen to someone, shouldn’t I?

    This thought hit home–stopping to listen, really listen, takes time and effort 🙂 and is worth doing. Thanks!

    • October 22, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      This book was quite good, and gave me a lot of insight about aging, which is important, as my parents keep reminding me we cannot know what they are going through. If you read it, I hope you like it! I find Olive a really heart-warming character (and I really don’t like “heart-warming” books).

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