Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events

What's New?__________

The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here.
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Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Olive Kitteridge: A Flawed Character Inspires Insight

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009. If some of us were surprised to learn this after reading the book, our discussion should have helped everyone to understand the virtues of this collection of related but individual stories. Talking about the reading experience, Kathy mentioned that knowing the book comprised short stories rather than a novel made it easier to read than it would have been had she tried to understand it as a novel. Others agreed. Jay and Patty both read the book without knowing at first that it wasn't a straightforward novel, and they both commented that they had difficulty with it until they figured it out! Patty said that she wanted more of each story line after finishing each story. I think a lot of us felt that way while reading. We wanted more story, but we didn't need it to get the author's moods and meanings, as we found out when we put our heads together to analyze the book. This is another testament to the quality of Strout's writing. Janice led the discussion by focusing on each story in turn, and this gave us a framework to give and get some wonderful insights into the levels of meaning available in this book.

We had some disagreement as to how sympathetic a character Olive was. Without a vote, I think most of us experienced a lot of dislike and disappointment when reading about Olive's interactions with people. I guess the very worst was her treatment of Henry during their experience as hostages. A close second would be her essentially vandalizing her new daughter-in-law's belongings at the wedding, and a third that comes to mind is her sudden explosion into anger at the end of her almost-successful visit with her son, Christopher, and his pregnant second wife. It's easy to find things to dislike about Olive! Jan didn't like Olive's being the kind of teacher that the preteens she taught were afraid of. Phyllis adamantly claimed she disliked Olive. Kathy said Olive was controlling. In the story about Olive's visit to her son and his pregnant wife, her son Christopher seemed to accurately characterize Olive when he said she was excessively changeable so that he never knew whether to expect a horrible or comfortable mood from her. And Henry, Olive's husband, who was probably the most sympathetic character in his long-suffering tolerance of Olive, was the one who noticed that Olive never apologized for anything...ever.

The author created an in-depth portrait of Olive Kitteridge, with all her unpleasant weaknesses and faults. This portrait included some almost exemplary, yet still questionable traits within Olive. Dennis suggested that Olive was created as a typical New Englander, from Maine, brusque in conversation and closed to emotional expression, especially loving emotions. Pam noted that Olive was multifaceted and very real and thought of her as a character who had loving feelings and thoughts but couldn't express herself. Did Olive purposely help the young man, Kevin, who had brought a big gun to kill himself with, or was she just being nosy? The anorexic girl certainly seemed to bring out a soft side of Olive. Olive felt strongly about Nina, perhaps because she sensed a kindred soul. The girl was starving herself by withholding food, and Olive was starving herself of love by withholding affection. I thought Olive had an easier time being sweet with people who were not close to her than with her family. Dennis noted that Olive was perceptive and involved with people. Marla said Olive helped people to control their lives when she could. And then there was the shut-in, Louise Larkin; what a convoluted meeting the Olive had with her, and what convoluted emotions and character traits connected in that story!

The stories turned out to be much deeper than what one might notice upon a first reading. Things happened, and characters were mentioned briefly and connected with a happening. Later, when thinking about or discussing them, the reader would realize how real and meaningful these characters and/or their situations were. In Olive, the author created a complete character, shedding more and more light on her in each story. Profound phrases, such as "...day after day was unconsciously squandered" and profound ideas, such as the "basket of trips" are scattered throughout the book. Our discussion stayed on topic, with lots of brainstorming about aspects of the book. The author didn't exactly leave the reader with open questions. It seemed the answers were all there in the book, but you had to think to understand them. As John said, the stories left a lot open to interpretation. They invited interpretation. Along with all the characters, interactions, events, and seemingly unrelated stories, we noted several pervasive themes in the book: mothers, marriages, small town life and gossip, and life itself. Through the adventures and quirks of the aging Olive and Henry, the reader is encouraged, as Shirley noticed, to examine you own life.

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