Book review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

OliveKitteridgeWe were going to be visiting Scott’s family in Maine and I’d never been there before, so I wanted to read something that was set in that state; Scott did a bit of research and suggested Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Extra points for a Maine novel written by a Maine author!

This book reminded me of:

I kept thinking back to Anne Tyler (Ladder of Years especially, not that I can remember a single detail other than how the book made me feel) and Alice Munro’s Still Life in terms of the female character’s experiences. Alice Munro again because the novel is a collection of short stories that could very well stand on their own. And Wendell Berry because of Strout’s choice to illuminate one small town through the eyes of several very different inhabitants and their very different stories… though to be fair, I think Strout covers a lot more ground in terms of humanizing a wider range of characters and situations.

This book got me thinking about:

…the many different ways aging relationships can go.
Apparently I had unconsciously assumed a very narrow spectrum of feelings and/or options available to people that had been in a relationship for decades, because I was very pleasantly surprised by the number of representations in this book.

…the fraught nature of parent/child relationships.
So many of the characters and scenarios reminded me of just-slightly-more-extreme versions of people and relationships in my own life Continue reading

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I want to talk to someone about Wendell Berry

LoadingBrushI love Wendell Berry. I think I’ve read more of his books than any other author’s. I’ve had the honor of seeing him speak on three different occasions. When he came and spoke to a rapt crowd at a packed barn in my (then) small town, I was thrilled that he signed my post-it-note-laden, cover-is-delaminating, I-recommend-it-to-everyone-who-expresses-an-interest copy of The Art of the Commonplace. I have had nothing but massive respect for the man and (most of) what he stands for.

With that context in mind, it kills me to admit any crack in my admiration for Mr. Berry. Now that I’ve started examining that crack, however, I’m realizing that I’ve had a few misgivings all along. This has sparked a familiar sort of grief: the grief that comes from removing someone from a pedestal I had them on.

In the first essay in The Art of Loading Brush (Counterpoint, 2017), “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age,” Mr. Berry repeatedly compares screen addiction to drug addiction, but worse “because it wears the aura of technological progress and social approval.” Continue reading