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Written by Elizabeth StroutAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Elizabeth Strout

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On Sale: March 25, 2008
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-1-58836-688-7
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • SOON TO BE AN HBO MINISERIES

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Praise for Olive Kitteridge:

“Perceptive, deeply empathetic . . . Olive is the axis around which these thirteen complex, relentlessly human narratives spin themselves into Elizabeth Strout’s unforgettable novel in stories.”
–O: The Oprah Magazine

“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her. . . . [Elizabeth Strout] constructs her stories with rich irony and moments of genuine surprise and intense emotion. . . . Glorious, powerful stuff.”
–USA Today

“Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. When she’s not onstage, we look forward to her return. The book is a page-turner because of her.”
San Francisco Chronicle

Olive Kitteridge still lingers in memory like a treasured photograph.”
–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Rarely does a story collection pack such a gutsy emotional punch.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“Strout animates the ordinary with astonishing force. . . . [She] makes us experience not only the terrors of change but also the terrifying hope that change can bring: she plunges us into these churning waters and we come up gasping for air.”
–The New Yorker

Excerpt

Chapter 1
Pharmacy

For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold. The pharmacy was a small two-story building attached to another building that housed separately a hardware store and a small grocery. Each morning Henry parked in the back by the large metal bins, and then entered the pharmacy’s back door, and went about switching on the lights, turning up the thermostat, or, if it was summer, getting the fans going. He would open the safe, put money in the register, unlock the front door, wash his hands, put on his white lab coat. The ritual was pleasing, as though the old store—with its shelves of toothpaste, vitamins, cosmetics, hair adornments, even sewing needles and greeting cards, as well as red rubber hot water bottles, enema pumps—was a person altogether steady and steadfast. And any unpleasantness that may have occurred back in his home, any uneasiness at the way his wife often left their bed to wander through their home in the night’s dark hours—all this receded like a shoreline as he walked through the safety of his pharmacy. Standing in the back, with the drawers and rows of pills, Henry was cheerful when the phone began to ring, cheerful when Mrs. Merriman came for her blood pressure medicine, or old Cliff Mott arrived for his digitalis, cheerful when he prepared the Valium for Rachel Jones, whose husband ran off the night their baby was born. It was Henry’s nature to listen, and many times during the week he would say, “Gosh, I’m awful sorry to hear that,” or “Say, isn’t that something?” Inwardly, he suffered the quiet trepidations of a man who had witnessed twice in childhood the nervous breakdowns of a mother who had otherwise cared for him with stridency. And so if, as rarely happened, a customer was distressed over a price, or irritated by the quality of an Ace bandage or ice pack, Henry did what he could to rectify things quickly. For many years Mrs. Granger worked for him; her husband was a lobster fisherman, and she seemed to carry with her the cold breeze of the open water, not so eager to please a wary customer. He had to listen with half an ear as he filled prescriptions, to make sure she was not at the cash register dismissing a complaint. More than once he was reminded of that same sensation in watching to see that his wife, Olive, did not bear down too hard on Christopher over a homework assignment or a chore left undone; that sense of his attention hovering—the need to keep everyone content. When he heard a briskness in Mrs. Granger’s voice, he would step down from his back post, moving toward the center of the store to talk with the customer himself. Otherwise, Mrs. Granger did her job well. He appreciated that she was not chatty, kept perfect inventory, and almost never called in sick. That she died in her sleep one night astonished him, and left him with some feeling of responsibility, as though he had missed, working alongside her for years, whatever symptom might have shown itself that he, handling his pills and syrups and syringes, could have fixed. “Mousy,” his wife said, when he hired the new girl. “Looks just like a mouse.” Denise Thibodeau had round cheeks, and small eyes that peeped through her brown-framed glasses. “But a nice mouse,” Henry said. “A cute one.” “No one’s cute who can’t stand up straight,” Olive said. It was true that Denise’s narrow shoulders sloped forward, as though apologizing for something. She was twenty-two, just out of the state university of Vermont. Her husband was also named Henry, and Henry Kitteridge, meeting Henry Thibodeau for the first time, was taken with what he saw as an unself-conscious excellence. The young man was vigorous and sturdy-featured with a light in his eye that seemed to lend a flickering resplendence to his decent, ordinary face. He was a plumber, working in a business owned by his uncle. He and Denise had been married one year. “Not keen on it,” Olive said, when he suggested they have the young couple to dinner. Henry let it drop. This was a time when his son—not yet showing the physical signs of adolescence—had become suddenly and strenuously sullen, his mood like a poison shot through the air, and Olive seemed as changed and changeable as Christopher, the two having fast and furious fights that became just as suddenly some blanket of silent intimacy where Henry, clueless, stupefied, would find himself to be the odd man out. But standing in the back parking lot at the end of a late summer day, while he spoke with Denise and Henry Thibodeau, and the sun tucked itself behind the spruce trees, Henry Kitteridge felt such a longing to be in the presence of this young couple, their faces turned to him with a diffident but eager interest as he recalled his own days at the university many years ago, that he said, “Now, say. Olive and I would like you to come for supper soon.” He drove home, past the tall pines, past the glimpse of the bay, and thought of the Thibodeaus driving the other way, to their trailer on the outskirts of town. He pictured the trailer, cozy and picked up—for Denise was neat in her habits—and imagined them sharing the news of their day. Denise might say, “He’s an easy boss.” And Henry might say, “Oh, I like the guy a lot.” He pulled into his driveway, which was not a driveway so much as a patch of lawn on top of the hill, and saw Olive in the garden. “Hello, Olive,” he said, walking to her. He wanted to put his arms around her, but she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away. He told her the Thibodeaus were coming for supper. “It’s only right,” he said. Olive wiped sweat from her upper lip, turned to rip up a clump of onion grass. “Then that’s that, Mr. President,” she said. “Give your order to the cook.” On Friday night the couple followed him home, and the young Henry shook Olive’s hand. “Nice place here,” he said. “With that view of the water. Mr. Kitteridge says you two built this yourselves.” “Indeed, we did.” Christopher sat sideways at the table, slumped in adolescent gracelessness, and did not respond when Henry Thibodeau asked him if he played any sports at school. Henry Kitteridge felt an unexpected fury sprout inside him; he wanted to shout at the boy, whose poor manners, he felt, revealed something unpleasant not expected to be found in the Kitteridge home. “When you work in a pharmacy,” Olive told Denise, setting before her a plate of baked beans, “you learn the secrets of everyone in town.” Olive sat down across from her, pushed forward a bottle of ketchup. “Have to know to keep your mouth shut. But seems like you know how to do that.” “Denise understands,” Henry Kitteridge said. Denise’s husband said, “Oh, sure. You couldn’t find someone more trustworthy than Denise.” “I believe you,” Henry said, passing the man a basket of rolls. “And please. Call me Henry. One of my favorite names,” he added. Denise laughed quietly; she liked him, he could see this. Christopher slumped farther into his seat. Henry Thibodeau’s parents lived on a farm inland, and so the two Henrys discussed crops, and pole beans, and the corn not being as sweet this summer from the lack of rain, and how to get a good asparagus bed. “Oh, for God’s sake,” said Olive, when, in passing the ketchup to the young man, Henry Kitteridge knocked it over, and ketchup lurched out like thickened blood across the oak table. Trying to pick up the bottle, he caused it to roll unsteadily, and ketchup ended up on his fingertips, then on his white shirt. “Leave it,” Olive commanded, standing up. “Just leave it alone, Henry. For God’s sake.” And Henry Thibodeau, perhaps at the sound of his own name being spoken sharply, sat back, looking stricken. “Gosh, what a mess I’ve made,” Henry Kitteridge said. For dessert they were each handed a blue bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sliding in its center. “Vanilla’s my favorite,” Denise said. “Is it,” said Olive. “Mine, too,” Henry Kitteridge said. As autumn came, the mornings darker, and the pharmacy getting only a short sliver of the direct sun before it passed over the building and left the store lit by its own overhead lights, Henry stood in the back filling the small plastic bottles, answering the telephone, while Denise stayed up front near the cash register. At lunchtime, she unwrapped a sandwich she brought from home, and ate it in the back where the storage was, and then he would eat his lunch, and sometimes when there was no one in the store, they would linger with a cup of coffee bought from the grocer next door. Denise seemed a naturally quiet girl, but she was given to spurts of sudden talkativeness. “My mother’s had MS for years, you know, so starting way back we all learned to help out. All three of my brothers are different. Don’t you think it’s funny when it happens that way?” The oldest brother, Denise said, straightening a bottle of shampoo, had been her father’s favorite until he’d married a girl her father didn’t like. Her own in-laws were wonderful, she said. She’d had a boyfriend before Henry, a Protestant, and his parents had not been so kind to her. “It wouldn’t have worked out,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Well, Henry’s a terrific young man,” Henry answered. She nodded, smiling through her glasses like a thirteen-year-old girl. Again, he pictured her trailer, the two of them like overgrown puppies tumbling together; he could not have said why this gave him the particular kind of happiness it did, like liquid gold being poured through him. She was as efficient as Mrs. Granger had been, but more relaxed. “Right beneath the vitamins in the second aisle,” she would tell a customer. “Here, I’ll show you.” Once, she told Henry she sometimes let a person wander around the store before asking if she could help them. “That way, see, they might find something they didn’t know they needed. And your sales will go up.” A block of winter sun was splayed across the glass of the cosmetics shelf; a strip of wooden floor shone like honey. He raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Lucky for me, Denise, when you came through that door.” She pushed up her glasses with the back of her hand, then ran the duster over the ointment jars. Jerry McCarthy, the boy who delivered the pharmaceuticals once a week from Portland—or more often if needed—would sometimes have his lunch in the back room. He was eighteen, right out of high school; a big, fat kid with a smooth face, who perspired so much that splotches of his shirt would be wet, at times even down over his breasts, so the poor fellow looked to be lactating. Seated on a crate, his big knees practically to his ears, he’d eat a sandwich that had spilling from it mayonnaisey clumps of egg salad or tuna fish, landing on his shirt. More than once Henry saw Denise hand him a paper towel. “That happens to me,” Henry heard her say one day. “Whenever I eat a sandwich that isn’t just cold cuts, I end up a mess.” It couldn’t have been true. The girl was neat as a pin, if plain as a plate. “Good afternoon,” she’d say when the telephone rang. “This is the Village Pharmacy. How can I help you today?” Like a girl playing grown-up. And then: On a Monday morning when the air in the pharmacy held a sharp chill, he went about opening up the store, saying, “How was your weekend, Denise?” Olive had refused to go to church the day before, and Henry, uncharacteristically, had spoken to her sharply. “Is it too much to ask,” he had found himself saying, as he stood in the kitchen in his undershorts, ironing his trousers. “A man’s wife accompanying him to church?” Going without her seemed a public exposure of familial failure. “Yes, it most certainly is too goddamn much to ask!” Olive had almost spit, her fury’s door flung open. “You have no idea how tired I am, teaching all day, going to foolish meetings where the goddamn principal is a moron! Shopping. Cooking. Ironing. Laundry. Doing Christopher’s homework with him! And you—” She had grabbed on to the back of a dining room chair, and her dark hair, still uncombed from its night’s disarrangement, had fallen across her eyes. “You, Mr. Head Deacon Claptrap Nice Guy, expect me to give up my Sunday mornings and go sit among a bunch of snot-wots!” Very suddenly she had sat down in the chair. “Well, I’m sick and tired of it,” she’d said, calmly. “Sick to death.” A darkness had rumbled through him; his soul was suffocating in tar. The next morning, Olive spoke to him conversationally. “Jim’s  car smelled like upchuck last week. Hope he’s cleaned it out.” Jim  O’Casey taught with Olive, and for years took both Christopher and Olive to school. “Hope so,” said Henry, and in that way their fight was done. “Oh, I had a wonderful weekend,” said Denise, her small eyes behind her glasses looking at him with an eagerness that was so childlike it could have cracked his heart in two. “We went to Henry’s folks and dug potatoes at night. Henry put the headlights on from the car and we dug potatoes. Finding the potatoes in that cold soil—like an Easter egg hunt!” He stopped unpacking a shipment of penicillin, and stepped down to talk to her. There were no customers yet, and below the front window the radiator hissed. He said, “Isn’t that lovely, Denise.” She nodded, touching the top of the vitamin shelf beside her. A small motion of fear seemed to pass over her face. “I got cold and went and sat in the car and watched Henry digging potatoes, and I thought: It’s too good to be true.”
Elizabeth Strout|Author Q&A

About Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge

Photo © Andrea Sperling

Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.

Author Q&A

Random House Reader’s Circle sat down with Olive Kitteridge and Elizabeth Strout in a doughnut shop in Olive’s hometown of Crosby, Maine.

Random House Reader’s Circle: Thank you both for meeting with us. This is such a treat.

Olive Kitteridge: Well, it’s strange, I’ll say that.

Elizabeth Strout: It’s lovely to be here, thank you.

RHRC: Ms. Strout, our first question is for you. Which characters were the easiest for you to write?

ES: The easiest character to write about was Olive herself. She is so vibrant, so powerful in her desires and opinions, she came to me fully formed and with little trouble. Whenever she walked through a door, took a ride in her car, or walked along the river, I felt lucky to follow her.

Harmon, the hardware store owner, was also easily available to me, though in a very different way. His quiet sadness helped me see him, made me feel for his situation. Louise Larkin came to me clearly, as did Jack Kennison, and Angela O’Meara. And the steadfast Henry, of course.

OK: Wait, you were following me? I knew it. I don’t know why you felt so compelled to write about me. There are far more interesting people in Crosby to talk about.

ES: I did talk about them, Olive. But the truth is, you are the most fascinating to me. You are ferocious and complicated and kindly and sometimes cruel. In essence, you are a little bit of each of us.

RHRC: That is gorgeously said, Ms. Strout. Is there something about Olive’s complexities that made you decide to write about her through a collection of related short stories, as opposed to a novel? What was it about this format that worked best for you?

ES: I chose to use this form primarily because I envisioned the power of Olive’s character as best told in an episodic manner. I thought the reader might need a little break from her at times, as well.

OK: A break from me?

ES: Well, Olive, you are a force to contend with. Besides, I also love point of view, and I thought it would be interesting for the reader to see you from different sets of eyes in the community. You are Olive, but you are also a member of the town, and therefore your role, in its many permutations, could be revealed by telling the story of you in this way.

OK: Well, speaking of the community: Were the single folks in Crosby just plain boring to you, or do you enjoy telling the secrets of old couples who’ve been married so long that no one even thinks they have secrets anymore?

ES: Olive, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the single folks of Crosby were boring to me. And I also think about half the population of this country is married. Therefore, to write about this town would necessarily entail writing about married couples. There are also a number of stories in this book that do not include married people. Angie O’Meara was single all of her life, and she was hardly boring to me. Nor was the tortured Kevin Coulson. And Rebecca is young and single, and her story was compelling to me. And Julie, who runs away–it looks like she may be single for a while, depending on what Bruce decides to do.

Do I enjoy telling the secrets of old married couples? I adore telling the secrets of old married couples. A marriage is always a source of great drama for a fiction writer. It is in our most intimate relationships that we are truly revealed, and this is why, perhaps, I chose to write about a variety of married relationships. It was not a conscious decision. And besides, who doesn’t like learning a good secret or two?

RHRC: We sure do. In fact, we’re just dying to know–Mrs. Kitteridge, Ms. Strout–is there a reason doughnuts are so prominently featured in these stories?

OK: That’s the truth. You seem to make note of every one I have–or that Bonnie craves, for that matter!

ES: I think Olive was the one who suggested meeting in this doughnut shop where we are now. And why not? Look around. Olive comes from a time and place where doughnut shops abound. She loves the comfort of food, and doughnuts are a source of comfort to her, as they are for many people. She’s not entirely careless about her physical well being, but the doughnuts represent a certain heedlessness in her desire to appease her appetites.

OK: So, do you have a predilection toward doughnuts, too?

ES: Oh, don’t be defensive, Olive. I know exactly how pleasing a good doughnut can be.

RHRC: Don’t we all?

OK: But before we get off the topic of secrets: What did Angie O’Meara tell you about her affairs? Who knew?

ES: Ah, you see, you like a good secret as much as the next person. Poor Angie, she did not have an easy time of it.

OK: Did you suspect that Angie was the one causing the bruises on her old mother in the nursing home?

ES: Well, that’s up to the reader to decide. But Angie suffered in that affair with Malcolm Moody for years. She didn’t think she deserved much better until the very end of the story when–whether or not anyone knows–she decides her dignity can still be salvaged by moving away from the role of the “other woman.”

OK: Has Suzanne been in touch with you at all? I wonder what that no-good woman is up to these days.

ES: I have no idea what Suzanne is up to, but hopefully she is saving lives by encouraging people to have their colonoscopies. By the way– I think you may be due.

RHRC: Mrs. Kitteridge, we’ll change the topic, as you seem a bit uncomfortable. Ms. Strout, may we ask where you got the information about Henry and–

OK: Yes, just wait a minute here. What were you insinuating about Henry and Denise Thibodeau?

ES: I was not insinuating anything, Olive, and you know that. Come now, you’re an intelligent woman, and you don’t flinch from the truth. You surely know that in the course of a long marriage it is not unusual for a husband or a wife to develop a crush on someone else, as you yourself did. If Henry needed to feel important in a way that you could not (at that time in your lives) make him feel, he is only human; that he would be drawn to someone who needed him is not unreasonable. He did not act on this, and you did not act on your own attraction to another. For all your problems, you and Henry were very good friends, and you loved each other as best you could.

RHRC: Yes, Mrs. Kitteridge, we are all very sorry for your loss. Mr. Kitteridge was an amazing man. Did you notice any changes in yourself after Henry’s death?

OK: When your husband of many, many years dies, you see nothing for a long while. There is anguish and terror. And then you may see yourself in a book.

ES: What did you notice about yourself, seeing your life in writing this way?

OK: That I couldn’t control everything. I didn’t think I could, of course. But I still saw that–that things happen that you can’t control. That you can go on. Amazing, really.

RHRC: Amazing indeed.

OK: You know what else is amazing? This book. It may be the strangest thing that ever happened to me, reading this book, but I thought it was pretty damn good. Still, I never thought to compare the two Kevins– you know, Bonnie’s boy and the Coulson kid. Did you write them so similarly on purpose?


ES: Well, I guess I don’t see them as similar. Kevin Coulson was a very depressed young man with a particular and extremely difficult family history. Bonnie’s son, Kevin, came from a family that functioned far better, and he had an easygoing relationship with both his parents. If he was made a bit nervous by his young wife and her strict vegetarian beliefs, well–that is hardly a large problem. Certainly nothing as large as what Kevin Coulson faced.

OK: Imagine not eating carrot soup because the base is made from chicken stock. I hate that kind of foolishness.

RHRC: Mrs. Kitteridge, our next question is for you. Which of your students do you remember the best?

OK: Oh, I had a young girl years ago. Tense as a witch. Beautiful girl. She’d often have tears in her eyes. She’d come speak to me after school, and just stand there with tears in her big pretty eyes. She told me, eventually, what was going on. But I’m not going to tell you.

ES: Which of your students reminded you most of yourself?

OK: The ones who were mad. I don’t mean crazy-mad. I mean angry-mad. The ones who had some spit and vinegar to them.

RHRC: Interesting. Ms. Strout, do you see any of yourself in Olive? In Henry? In Christopher?

ES: I actually see myself in all my characters. In order to imagine what it feels like to be another person I have to use my own experiences and responses to the world. I have to pay attention to what I have felt and observed, then push these responses to an extreme while keeping the story within the realm of being psychologically and emotionally true. Many times after writing a story or a novel, I will suddenly think, oh, I’m feeling what (for example) Olive would feel. But in fact, the process has worked the other way around.

RHRC: What do you think is the best thing about Olive? Do you think she’s aware of how people in town perceive her–especially before Henry’s illness?

ES: I think Olive is partially aware of how people in town perceive her. But there are different perceptions of her, remember. To some, she is insightful and likeable. To others she is bossy and contentious. I think to some extent she believes that she doesn’t care what people think of her, but I also think that she does care. She is easily wounded, as when her first daughter-in-law insults her new dress. And she is fiercely proud of her New England ancestry. I think she may not understand that her relationship to her son is as possessive as it originally is. But the best thing about Olive is her forthrightness, her ability to eventually see more and more of herself. While she is, like most of us, blind to aspects of herself, she does not shy away from things she begins to perceive about herself; she is willing to strive after the truth. This makes her commendable, I think.

OK: Yuh. That’s ducky. Duck soup.

RHRC: What do you hope your readers get out of reading Olive’s story–or stories, as they are?

ES: I would hope that my readers feel a sense of awe at the quality of human endurance, at the endurance of love in the face of a variety of difficulties; that the quotidian life is not always easy, and is something worthy of respect. I would also hope that readers receive a larger understanding, or a different understanding, of what it means to be human, than they might have had before. We suffer from being quick to judge, quick to make excuses for ourselves and others, and I would like the reader to feel that we are all, more or less, in a similar state as we love and disappoint one another, and that we try, most of us, as best we can, and that to fail and succeed is what we do.

RHRC: Thank you both so much for your time. This was really–

ES: Before you go, Olive, may I ask if you think Patty Howe was trying to kill herself? Because there might be some confusion about that.

OK: Why in the world would Patty Howe be trying to kill herself? She has a lovely husband and is looking forward to a family, and she was picking him flowers. She also has a nice, smart mother, and if she was careless in getting too close to the edge of that drop-off, well, accidents happen frequently on these jagged coastline rocks. Kill herself? You’re crazy.

ES: But don’t you think there are maybe a lot of suicidal thoughts– or suicide attempts–for a small town like Crosby? Why do you think that is?

OK: You may be the writer, Elizabeth, but I think it’s a wacky question, and I’ll tell you something else–it’s none of your damn business. Goodbye, people. I have a garden to weed.

Praise | Awards

Praise

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2008 BY:

People
USA Today
The Atlantic
The Washington Post Book World
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Entertainment Weekly
The Christian Science Monitor
San Francisco Chronicle
Salon
San Antonio Express-News
Chicago Tribune
The Wall Street Journal

Awards

WINNER 2009 Pulitzer Prize
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?

2. Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?

3. How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?

4. Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?

5. What freedoms do the residents of Crosby, Maine, experience in contrast with those who flee the town for bigger “ponds” (California, New York)? Does anyone feel trapped in Crosby, and if so, who? What outlets for escape are available to them?

6. Why does Henry tolerate Olive as much as he does, catering to her, agreeing with her, staying even-keeled when she rants and raves? Is there anyone that you tolerate despite their sometimes overbearing behavior? If so, why?

7. How does Kevin (in “Incoming Tide”) typify a child craving his father’s approval? Are his behaviors and mannerisms any way like those of Christopher Kitteridge? Do you think Olive reminds Kevin more of his mother or of his father?

8. In “A Little Burst,” why do you think Olive is so keen on having a positive relationship with Suzanne, whom she obviously dislikes? How is this a reflection of how she treats other people in town?

9. Does it seem fitting to you that Olive would not respond while others ridiculed her body and her choice of clothing at Christopher and Suzanne’s wedding?

10. How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships?

11. Elizabeth Strout writes, “The appetites of the body were private battles” (“Starving,” page 89). In what ways is this true? Are there “appetites” that could be described as battles waged in public? Which ones, and why?

12. Why does Nina elicit such a strong reaction from Olive in “Starving”? What does Olive notice that moves her to tears in public? Why did witnessing this scene turn Harmon away from Bonnie?

13. In “A Different Road,” Strout writes about Olive and Henry: “No, they would never get over that night because they had said things that altered how they saw each other” (p. 124). What is it that Olive and Henry say to each other while being held hostage in the hospital bathroom that has this effect? Have you experienced a moment like this in one of your close relationships?

14. In “Tulips” and in “Basket of Trips,” Olive visits people in difficult circumstances (Henry in the convalescent home, and Marlene Bonney at her husband’s funeral) in hopes that “in the presence of someone else’s sorrow, a tiny crack of light would somehow come through her own dark encasement” (p. 172). In what ways do the tragedies of others shine light on Olive’s trials with Christopher’s departure and Henry’s illness? How do those experiences change Olive’s interactions with others? Is she more compassionate or more indifferent? Is she more approachable or more guarded? Is she more hopeful or more pessimistic?

15. In “Ship in a Bottle,” Julie is jilted by her fiancé, Bruce, on her wedding day. Julie’s mother, Anita, furious at Bruce’s betrayal, shoots at him soon after. Julie quotes Olive Kitteridge as having told her seventh-grade class, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else” (p. 195). What do you think Olive means by this phrase? How does Olive’s life reflect this idea? Who is afraid of his or her hunger in these stories?

16. In “Security,” do you get the impression that Olive likes Ann, Christopher’s new wife? Why does she excuse Ann’s smoking and drinking while pregnant with Christopher’s first child (and Henry’s first grandchild)? Why does she seem so accepting initially, and what makes her less so as the story goes on?

17. Was Christopher justified in his fight with Olive in “Security”? Did he kick her out, or did she voluntarily leave? Do you think he and Ann are cruel to Olive?

18. Do you think Olive is really oblivious to how others see her– especially Christopher? Do you think she found Christopher’s accusations in “Security” shocking or just unexpected?

19. What’s happened to Rebecca at the end of “Criminal”? Where do you think she goes, and why do you think she feels compelled to go? Do you think she’s satisfied with her life with David? What do you think are the reasons she can’t hold down a job?

20. What elements of Olive’s personality are revealed in her relationship with Jack Kennison in “River”? How does their interaction reflect changes in her perspective on her son? On the way she treated Henry? On the way she sees the world?


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