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?
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