Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout

This book is awesome. But what I want to talk about isn't the linked short stories within these covers, but the author interview that follows them. In it, not only is Strout interviewed, but her fictional character Kitteridge is, too.

And it's a complete joke. These stories have pathos that crash over you, again and again, like a set of tidal waves. As a reader you really go somewhere with Olive and her town of Crosby, Maine. But then to reach the end and begin the interview, hoping that Strout might explain where these characters came from and how their sum narrative arc was choreographed, and instead find Olive has been cheapened to coy remarks to the interviewer and Strout--well, I felt taken advantage of. Like Ralphie from "A Christmas Story," where Annie's secret message is a crummy commercial for Ovaltine.

In one of these stories, a character rips pages out of a magazine that contain a short story that reminds her too much of her sorry state of affairs. In reading this interview, I wanted to rip it out of the book so it wouldn't contaminate what is truly remarkable writing.


Renee Thompson said...

I loved "Pharmacy," having worked in those old Rexall drugstores that Strout encapsulated so perfectly -- from the smell of the 99-cent Styrofoam containers to the whiffs of Heaven Scent and Wind Song. I remember the slick turn of a new lipstick, and the pharmacist's typewriter clacking out prescription labels. I remember, too, the doctors' codes and their sketchy handwriting: PRN (as needed); PO (by mouth); BID (twice a day); TID (three times a day). I remember Kodak film and red licorice and Cosmo magazines (I still have the issue with Burt Reynolds posing nude, strategically draped around a bearskin rug).

A lot of life happened in those old stores, and Elizabeth Strout's story brought back the vibrant details. It was a pleasure to remember.

Michelle Panik said...

Heaven Scent and Wind Song are before my time. But I do remember Jean Nate in the local Thrifty drugstore.

And QID is four times a day, right?