This is a book that takes place in a small Maine town. The central locus of this book is Olive Kitteridge, a retired middle school math teacher with a pharmacist for a husband and a podiatrist for a son. She’s not the center of every single story in the collection, but she is the glue and often the catalyst for them separately and/or together.
This is labeled as a “novel in stories” and there’s a lot of different of these floating around. Ultimately I think this book works and is good in spite of this way of looking at it. This is a novel, and the stories I don’t really think would work on their own. The ordering is also challenging because it takes about three or so in before I really got a sense of what was happening (the stories themselves were perfectly comprehensible, but the totality of the book was less so).
The first story that really clicked with me and locked me into the book involves a young man returning home to this town having been away for a few decades. He sits in his car contemplating suicide when Olive, his old math teacher, recognizes him and sits with him. This isn’t a life-affirming set of scenes that follows, so much as a visceral moment in which the mere presence of another person, a body and a life, even a mostly unpleasant one, can be an anchor.
There’s another story where Olive is in a small house watching her son, now 38, about to marry a kind of horrendous woman who he’s only known for six weeks. As a 37 year old youngest child who married late comparative to my older siblings and who has an older teacher mom…well, this one got to me (luckily my wife is great and she and my mom get along well).
This was a kind of white whale book for me for a while. I attempted to read it when it first came out and I would find a free copy and intend to read it and then just not. It’s a lot like a Marilynne Robinson novel in a lot of way (though Olive hates religion), maybe by way of Jane Smiley.