Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality

Mon Aug 12 2013

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Olive KitteridgeDuring our recent safari, I actually created a new summertime reading memory of my own, one that I think will be a favorite for years to come. Thanks to digital library lending, I had pre-loaded OLIVE KITTERIDGE onto my iPad, and each day during our afternoon siestas, I would lie on the cot in my tent, or sit outside under the shade of a mopane tree, and enjoy a story or two.

Elizabeth Strout’s writing was dense and delicious. For some reason I hadn’t expected this book to be so … small-town, and yet universally relatable. Strout really transported me to this place, made me care about these people. And in telling me their stories, she taught me about myself.

She also inspired me to reconnect with my love of writing short fiction. Reading this book planted a kernel of creative energy that I’ve been doing my best to nurture and grow.

Here are a few of the lines I loved.

You get used to things, he thinks, without getting used to things.

He had thought more and more how provincial New Yorkers were, and how they didn’t know it.

Hope was a cancer inside him. He didn’t want it; he did not want it. He could not bear these shoots of tender green hope springing up within him any longer.

You couldn’t make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn’t go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.

Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee.

The appetites of the body were private battles.

Lives get knit together like bones, and fractures might not heal.

“All these lives,” she said. “All the stories we never know.”

I think that’s the essence of why I love to read and write. Because I want to know everyone’s stories. Whether people tell me, or I make them up myself.

Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology.

I wish this was more true of myself. I’ve made a conscious effort in recent years to be more confident, less concerned with others’ opinions. And I’ve made big strides. But I think I can go even further.

“‘Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.’”

I don’t remember the context of this line, but I believe it’s about passion. About taking that leap of faith, trusting in yourself, your gut instincts. There are all sorts of reasons to take (or not take) certain paths in life, but I think fear is probably the worst reason.

Everyone thinks they know everything, and no one knows a damn thing.

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5 Comments
  1. Shari says:
    Mon Aug 12 2013 at 4:21 PM

    It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to think of all the stories each person holds inside? And all the stories each person lives out loud? A B&B plays an important role in my WIP and it’s really made me think: wouldn’t it be awesome to own one and get to learn the stories of all your guests? Maybe when I win the lottery one day … ;)

  2. Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) says:
    Tue Aug 13 2013 at 10:58 AM

    SUCH an amazing book (it’s on my “unforgettable” list on Goodreads). This reminds me it’s time for a re-read.

  3. Sonje says:
    Tue Aug 13 2013 at 7:15 PM

    How funny! I just read Olive Kitteridge last month too! There were a bunch of good lines, and I wanted to note them, but for some reason, I didn’t. But I found one. It wasn’t hard, being on the last page of the book:

    “And so, if this man next to her now was not a man she would have chosen before this time, what did it matter? He most likely wouldn’t have chosen her either. But here they were, and Olive pictured two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union–what pieces life took out of you.”

    Also from that story (I love this line): “And then–like a rainbow–Jack Kennison called.”

  4. Kristan says:
    Thu Aug 15 2013 at 10:20 AM

    Shari-
    I too think it would be great fun to run a B&B! I can totally see you doing it. :)

    Natalia-
    I’ve heard good things about THE BURGESS BOYS, too.

    Sonje-
    Did you? Too funny! I’m glad you enjoyed it. So many great lines — I don’t think I even included half of my favorites here.

  5. Jonathan says:
    Mon Aug 19 2013 at 9:44 PM

    “I think that’s the essence of why I love to read and write. Because I want to know everyone’s stories. Whether people tell me, or I make them up myself.”

    Agreed! I don’t think there’s any better reason to write, among the million or so motivations.

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