Wednesday, December 09, 2009
When I heard that Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year I thought “Oh finally, they are giving that award to someone I like.” I hadn’t read the book yet but I was very optimistic. After all, I loved Strout’s two earlier novels, Amy and Isabelle, and Abide with Me.
I should have known better. One of the requirements for winning the Pultizer Prize for fiction is that I must hate the book.* Indeed, the Pulitzer committee calls me every year to make sure that they aren’t giving the prize to something I liked, by accident. (Ha! Just kidding!)
Olive Kitteridge is a series of connected short stories set in New England, where Strout’s previous two books have also taken place. The same characters pop in and out of various stories, including Olive Kitteridge, who is a retired school teacher. Most of the stories are just small episodes in the lives of the townspeople. I suppose they are meant to be poignant snapshots, but I found them to be disjointed and confusing. While the characters in Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me are clearly drawn and memorable, the characters in Olive Kitteridge seem almost interchangeable with one another: here’s an ineffective man, and here’s another; this woman is disappointed, and so is this other one. I really can’t say enough awful things about this book. On the other hand, Abide with Me was just lovely. Go read that instead.
*Okay, I’m exaggerating. I liked Middlesex (2003), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001), and Interpreter of Maladies (2000). But I hated (really really hated) The Road (2007) and was pretty bored by several of the other recent winners.
(Book 42, 2009)
ETA more specifics, less ranting.