This collection of linked short stories lucidly illuminates the contradictions that make up the human condition. The link that binds the stories together is Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in small-town Maine.
Olive is plain-spoken and gruff. Some people are afraid of her, but she can show sudden compassion and insight.
In “The Pharmacy,” Olive’s gentle husband Henry falls in love with his young pharmacy assistant without ever making his feelings known. In “A Little Burst,” Olive steals some of her daughter-in-law’s clothes during the wedding at the house the Kitteridges built for their son. She has overheard Suzanne saying nasty things about her. In “Tulips,” after Henry has a heart attack, Olive reflects upon their pain that their son Christopher moved away to California with his wife, and even after divorcing did not return or invite them to visit.
In other stories, Olive is less important or simply a presence. A timely conversation with her seems to keep a young man named Kevin from attempting suicide in “Incoming Tide.” In another story, the Kitteridges stroll to the restaurant through the bar where Angie plays the piano every night and thinks about the man she loved.
With neighbors and strangers, Olive says exactly the right thing in a difficult moment, and with her loved ones exactly the wrong thing. Many of the stories are sad but ultimately touching. Strout uses an unusual structure to create the sense of a lovely and affecting novel.