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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“What are you?”

I am Chinese and Canadian-European (though to be honest I’m not sure if I marked that or the “American European” box on the New Zealand census last week) with both American and Canadian citizenship. Oddly, moving to New Zealand has made me feel more culturally Chinese.

But there are so many other ways that we identify ourselves. People like me often get asked the question I’ve used as the title to this post… which, incidentally, is not usually considered respectful, in case you were wondering 🙂

Americans love to ask “what do you do?” as if that is the only way to define who someone is… and that’s a question I also find really limited.

How do YOU identify?

The personal is the political

My older brother died before I was born due to a heart condition that doctors can now successfully treat with advanced surgeries like the one Jimmy Kimmel describes here:

So, with tissues out and proverbial protest signs up, a few Thank Yous:

  • Thank You mom and dad for going through what must have been a horribly traumatic process and still deciding to have me and Adam;
  • Thank You scientific research for helping prevent similar grief; thank you US Congress for increasing, rather than decreasing funding for science despite the proposed budget (keep up the good work!);
  • Thank You Affordable Care Act for insuring me and everyone else who has pre-existing conditions when nobody else would; and finally,
  • Thank You everyone in countries where socialized health care exists for being a bit more compassionate and recognizing that most Americans did NOT vote for Trump before responding with something like “you voted him in, now deal with it” whenever someone expresses their grief about what is going on in the US right now.

Why behavioral prescriptions are bullshit

At 5:04 PM on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 (oh, the magical/horrific specificity of digital records!),  I emailed the following to my brother:

Howdy,

I woke up this morning realizing that we obviously need to start writing a brother-sister tag-team relationship advice column. Not because either of us has really demonstrated any long-term relationship success (ha), but because it would be awesome. I can smell the book deal already!

Your 3 Things (“things”??? do you have a better name for them?):

  1. Honesty.
  2. Accountability.
  3. No Bullshit.
  4. (I would add compassion, ie, you give people the benefit of the doubt, but these are your things, not mine…)

He’s been talking about his three things for years. Not sure why I decided to add my own on that particular day, but that’s the kind of thing annoying big sisters do.

I then wrote up my own 4 Prescriptions for Healthy Relationships (be it with romantic partners, parents, colleagues): Continue reading