Review by Research Librarian Carolyn Marvin
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout features the return of her prickly character Olive Kittredge from the small town of Crosby, Maine. And we, the reader, are so grateful to Strout and so ready to revisit the many villagers she encounters. It is a bitter-sweet journey, particularly this time round, as Olive moves into her 70s and 80s and observes and endures the many trials of growing old. Her life and that of those she meets provoke such keen observations, we can only nod with her in agreement.
Strout is a master of character established through gesture, expression and dialogue and in Olive’s dealing with the indignities and frustrations of old age, she has created her masterpiece. Olive is, if nothing else, honest. She speaks the truth, but her honesty is often cutting and lacking in empathy. In this new volume, the wisdom and balance that comes with age, allows her to observe and comment upon others as well as to reflect upon herself, in acerbic, but accurate ways. Sitting in the coffee shop, she muses:
When you get old, you become invisible. It’s just the truth. And yet it’s freeing in a way. You go through life and you think you are something. Not in a good way, and not in a bad way. But you think you are something, and then you see that you are no longer anything. To a waitress with a huge hind end you’ve become invisible. And it’s freeing.
When you fall as an “older” person, you go down like a felled tree. It takes time for your brain to compute “I am falling” as you simultaneously crash to the ground. And if, like Olive, there is no one around to hear your cries, you struggle to raise yourself but just can’t (“get up you damned fool”), you crawl to whatever is there that can be used as leverage. For Olive, it is that outdoor spigot that her late husband reluctantly installed at her request (he thought it foolish) which helps Olive get back into the house. And then into an assisted living facility, a difficult thing for this proud woman to accept.
I could visit Olive again and again. As we leave her writing down memories on an old typewriter, we wonder, could there be another book coming?
You can find Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout in the Athenaeum’s online catalog. Click the button below.
Proprietors and Subscribers, if you have read a book recently from the Athenaeum catalog, we would love to share your review. Contact Librarian Robin Silva for more information, email@example.com.
More Book Reviews
The Road Not Taken by Max Boot
This is a must read for all who were physically or emotionally involved in the period from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Ed Lansdale was a true visionary and American patriot who was continuously humbled and ignored. Too bad he isn’t alive to advise our current leaders!
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
This historical fiction book set in colonial New York dazzles the reader with a roller coaster plot, vivid language and authentic settings. The main character, the handsome, but mysterious young man named Mr. Smith steps off an English ship and proceeds to the office of the preeminent shipping company, where he presents a bill of credit for one thousand pounds, a fortune which the company is loath to pay. Stalling for time, they insist on waiting for confirmation from England. Meanwhile the local business community consisting of established Dutch traders and the more recent English gentry trieto ferret out this man’s motivations. What are Mr. Smith’s intentions? The author employs colorful metaphors, Dutch phrases, sensory language and cultural details to create cinematic effects which captivate and mystify. For Mr. Smith is not who he seems and before this tale ends we will discover that the narrator has a point of view we don’t expect.
The Lost Gutenberg by Margaret Leslie Davis
I would highly recommend this book. It traces the adventures of one of the 45 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible. It gives an account of the fortunes and misfortunes of the sometimes obsessive owners of the bible, culminating with the Dohenneys, of Teapot Dome notoriety. Along the way, there is much information about the development of the printing process.