I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing. I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for exceptional storytelling.
Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.
Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. Of learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. Of being sick with longing and in need of solace. Unless one has experienced it, understanding Henry and Olive’s powerful connections outside their marriage won’t make sense. Of the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age.
Of tender unexpected love that has no name but just gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate and can never exist in the real world. Of deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.
Of truth and saying how you feel and being abrasive but straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. Of the words uttered carelessly and the damage they cause.
Of the meek and submissive becoming villainous when it is they who wield the power. It makes you wonder how people change or if you knew them in the first place.
Of small things, things of no consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.
Of compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. Of being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you that’s all that matters.
Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.