Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s first book of thirteen interconnected short stories revolving around the crusty resident of Crosby, Maine, was such a barn-burner it’s no wonder Ms. Strout has returned to Olive and Crosby in Olive, Again. Ten years ago, Strout won a Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge and that book was turned into a mini-series starring Frances McDermond which is definitely worth the watch.
In Olive, Again, Strout uses the same format, thirteen interconnected short stories, that bring the fruition of several characters in previous books. Olive’s, Jack’s, the Brothers Burgess (from The Burgess Boys), Isabelle Daignault (Amy and Isabelle). It’s nice to revisit these characters even if my recollection needed refreshing.
Olive, Again picks up shortly after Olive Kitteridge ended with a chapter about Jack Kennison, the retired Harvard professor a recently-widowed Olive met at the end of the first book.
Now Jack allowed his mind to go to Olive Kitteridge. Tall, big: God, she was a strange woman. He had liked her quite a bit, she had an honesty — was it an honesty? — she had something about her. A widow, she had — it felt to him — practically saved his life. They’d gone to dinner a few times, a concert; he had kissed her on the mouth. He could laugh out loud to think about this now. Her mouth. Olive Kitteridge. Like kissing a barnacle-covered whale. She had a grandson born a couple of years ago, Jack hadn’t especially cared, but she had cared because the kid was called Henry after his grandfather, Olive’s dead husband. Jack had suggested she go see the little fellow Henry in New York City and she had said, Well, she didn’t think so. Who knows why? Things were not good with her son, he knew that much. But things weren’t good with his daughter either. They had that in common. He remembered how Olive had told him right away that her father had killed himself when she was thirty. Shot himself in his kitchen. Maybe this had something to do with how she was; it must have. And then she had come over one morning and unexpectedly lain down next to him on the bed in the guest room. Boy, had he been relieved. Relief had just flowed through him when she’d put her head on his chest. “Stay,” he said finally, but she rose and said she had to get home. “I’d like it if you stayed,” he said, but she did not. And she never returned. When he tried calling her, she did not answer the telephone.
Olive, we know from this passage in the first chapter, has retained her inimitable “Oliveness.” As prone to selfish, hard-headed, amusing behavior as ever. She is also something of a guardian angel for her fellow residents of Crosby, Maine. She attends a “stupid” baby shower, “she could not believe what a stupid baby shower that had been,” but while there delivers a baby in the back seat of her own car because the ambulance couldn’t make it there in time. It is this event that prompts Olive to reconnect with Jack. She wants to tell someone about it so she calls him.
Over the course of the book, Olive’s somewhat-estranged son Christoper visits; she sympathetically watches over a friend in a nursing home; Olive and Jack marry. Olive’s trademark exclamations — “Oh Godfrey,” “phooey to you,” “she’s gone all dopey-dope,” — as well as her defensiveness and vulnerability remain intact.
In one particularly poignant chapter, Jack and Olive drive to a nearby town for dinner at a new restaurant. As they are enjoying their meal, a woman and her date walk in and Jack becomes uncomfortable and Olive’s no-holds-barred frankness is on full display.
“She’s that woman who got you fired from Harvard.”
“I didn’t get fired,” Jack said; this made him really angry.
“She was the reason.” Olive said this, still quietly. And then, turning her face toward him, she said, and it seemed her voice almost trembled, “I have to tell you, Jack. The only thing that upsets me about her is your taste in women, I think she is a dreadful, dreadful woman.” . . . “that snot-wot is a creep. That dreadful woman you bedded down all those years.”
In reviewing Olive, Again for the Washington Post, Joan Frank says, “Without room for the swaths of material I long to quote, I can only cite the marrow of “Olive’s” glory: wave upon wave of unflinching insight, delivered in language so clean it shines. Sentences flow in simplest words and clearest order — yet line after line hammers home some of the most complex human rawness you’ll ever read.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-cranky-bossy-sad-brave-beloved-olive-kitteridge-is-back-in-olive-again–and-better-than-ever/2019/10/03/ba1df290-e47f-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html
Olive, Again is a wonderful book, full of character, humor, pathos, loss, joy, and sadness, as all truly great literature is. I highly recommend Olive, Again for your book club.
Olive’s favorite delicacy appears to be a lobster roll, which from what I (a Kentuckian) can tell is lobster mixed with mayonnaise on a hot dog bun. Since I don’t like mayonnaise and lobster is not nearly as plentiful in Kentucky as in Maine, I’m not going to try to provide a recipe.
At the “stupid” baby shower, the menu included “little sandwiches, deviled eggs, tiny pieces of chocolate cake.” Here I can help.
You’d probably want to provide one sandwich with an olive theme. Olive nut maybe?
Kentucky caterer Jennie Carter Benedict created a famous tea sandwich in her catering days that is still a must-serve for spring and Derby in Kentucky. Benedictine can be used as a vegetable dip but for Olive, Again, I’d use is as a sandwich filling. My favorite benedictine sandwiches use one tiny slice of bread (cut in circles), topped by the spread and on top of that a very thin slice of cucumber.
JENNIE BENEDICT’S FAMOUS BENEDICTINE SPREAD
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring (optional, but a local favorite)
Peel and grate the cucumber, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. Peel and grate the onion, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. (Use a juicer if you prefer)
Combine three tablespoons of the cucumber juice, one tablespoon of the onion juice, cream cheese, salt, pepper and food coloring in a bowl. Mix with a fork until well blended. Serve as a dip or as a sandwich filling.
I don’t recall music playing much of a role in Olive, Again. But it does seem to be underscored by quirky, somber-then-snappy melodies. There are a couple of pieces from the miniseries on amazon to purchase. But I feel like George Winston’s albums Autumn and Forest would be just the ticket.
*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.
Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!