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Down East Captured

maine-coastOlive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout is best described as a novel told in stories.  Each chapter is a beautifully crafted short story in and of itself, but when taken as a whole, the work provides not only a portrait of life in the small town of Crosby, Maine, as seen through the eyes of its various inhabitants, it also paints a microcosm of the human condition at large.  We are introduced to Olive — a retired math teacher, a no-nonsense and sometimes gruff individual–through the many stories told by her long-suffering and good natured husband, Henry, from a despondent former student, neighbors, extended family, and from Olive herself.  Each story gives the reader a slightly different view of Olive–sometimes amazingly insightful and kind, other times refusing to see the truth around her.  Each peels back another layer on this multi-dimensional character, and gives the reader a real sense that we know all these people: her husband, her son, her best friend, Bunny.  But, we are still in for a surprise in the end, when Olive herself discovers facets of her character and a view of life as yet unexplored.  I liked the technique of this novel told in stories, each one unique, yet I understand the criticism from other readers.  It felt a lot like the ghost of Christmas present in A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge is allowed a glimpse into the lives of his various acquaintances, then forced to move on as the night progresses.  I, too, wanted to linger over certain stories and learn more about the characters, to find out what happened.  Sometimes a later story would pick up a thread, but often not.  It could leave a reader with an unsatisfied feeling.  Overall, I would rate this one of the best books I have read (but did not really read, as I listened to it on tape) in recent years.  The author, Strout, deserves her prize.  One final word, if you do listen to the recorded version by Sandra Burr (I find some books are successfully read aloud, others not), I found her attempt to voice the “down Maine” accent distracting an in some measure annoying, especially for the character of Henry.  But audio book readers, don’t be put off by this…the work is so well done as to overcome such a small thing as this.


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