Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge (2008), says she thought she was done with Olive—until her beloved character “just appeared” to her again. And how grateful Strout’s readers will be that she did.
In 13 interlocking stories set in the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine, Olive travels through old age in her own inimitable style. She’s called an “old bag” by more than a few townsfolk, but she is loved by those who have, over the years, come to appreciate her honesty and complete lack of pretense.
In one story, Olive shares her fear of dying with Cindy, who cared for Olive’s late husband, Henry, and who may be dying of cancer herself. Olive reminds her that Cindy’s husband and sons, as well as Olive, will be “just a few steps behind” her if she does die.
A few years after Henry’s death, Olive befriends widower Jack Kennison. Each has a child who doesn’t really like them, and both are lonely. They marry—to the dismay of Olive’s son, Christopher—and go on to enjoy eight years together.
Olive lives through some health scares, first totaling her car after confusing the accelerator with the brake, then suffering a heart attack in her hairdresser’s driveway. When Olive is assigned round-the-clock nurse’s aides—the story “Heart” poignantly portrays Olive’s growing dread of being alone—two of the aides are especially kind to her. One is the daughter of a Somali refugee, the other is a Trump supporter, and Olive surprises herself by befriending them both.
Strout possesses an uncanny ability to focus on ordinary moments in her characters’ lives, bringing them to life with compassion and humor. Her characters could be our own friends or family, and readers can easily relate to their stories of love, damaged relationships, aging, loss and loneliness. Each phase of Olive’s life touches on a memory, real or imagined.
Olive, Again is a remarkable collection on its own but will be especially enjoyed by those who loved Olive Kitteridge. It’s a book to immerse oneself in and to share.