Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout
Date: Tuesday 3/6/12
Time: 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
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.
Reading Group Discussion Questions
- Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?
- Have you ever met anyone like Olive Kitteridge, and if so, what similarities do you see between that person and Olive?
- How would you say Olive changed as a person during the course of the book?
- Discuss the theme of suicide. Which characters are most affected (or fascinated) by the idea of killing themselves?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- How do you think Olive perceives boundaries and possessiveness, especially in regard to relationships?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
City of Louisville Public Library
Other Works by Elizabeth Strout
Amy and Isabelle (1998)
The Friend Who Got Away (2005, contributed one piece to this collection about “women's true life tales of friendships.”)
Abide With Me (2006)
The Best American Mystery Stories (2008, which includes her story “"A Different Road.”)
If You Liked Olive Kitteridge, may we recommend …
If your book club liked Olive Kitteridge, they may also like these books, which are sometimes referred to as “short story cycles” or “composite novels”:
Burning Bright, Ron Rash
Apparition & Late Fictions, Thomas Lynch
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Slaves of New York, Tama Janowitz
The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, Julia Alvarez
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
A Conversation with Charlie Rose
Enrich Your Book Club’s Experience
It’s always fun to have food available for your guests that somehow ties into the book you’ve read. Antipasto for books set in Italy, for example, or bite-sized quiches for French-based novels. While there are a lot of wonderful New England dishes that would be a great culinary companion to Olive Kitteridge, we recommend having some fun with the name of the novel’s titular character. Here are three great “olive” appetizer recipes for your guests.
Olive Cheese Bread
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (2.25 ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained
2 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 (1 pound) loaf unsliced French bread
- In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Slice bread in half widthwise and lengthwise.
- Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Spread cheese mixture over cut sides of bread. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Green Olive Caesar Dip
A savory dip great for crackers and veggies!
1 (5 ounce) package SARGENTO® Artisan Blends® Shredded Parmesan Cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, reserve small amount for garnish
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
- Place 1 cup cheese, cilantro, mayonnaise, olives, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and sugar in food processor or blender. Process with pulses, enough to mix ingredients together and coarsely chop olives.
- Spoon into serving bowl and top with remaining cheese and cilantro.
Orange and Rosemary Baked Olives
3 1/2 cups whole mixed olives, drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
4 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Stir the olives together with the wine, orange juice, olive oil, and garlic in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Nestle the sprigs of rosemary in the olives.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through the baking. Remove and discard the rosemary sprigs, then stir in the parsley, oregano, orange zest, and red pepper flakes. Serve warm, or cool the olives and use them to top a salad.
Seattle Post Intelligencer
Reviews of Elizabeth Strout’s Other Works:
Abide With Me (2006)