Olive Kitteridge is one of my all time favourites, so I was excited to read the sequel Olive, Again. And it did not disappoint. In fact, everything I would say about this second book, was said in my previous post about the first book, so you might as well turn back to that now: click here.
Strout is a genius at capturing many varied moments in one novel: holy, ordinary, heartbreaking, endearing, frustrating, joyous, sensual, horrible, humorous, and awkward. I think she writes ‘awkward’ best, I can’t imagine it’s easy to do. The sequel carries on seamlessly from the first book and holds the same tone and form: loosely connected stories about people in Crosby, Maine but what you can count on is that Olive will show up, and it will be intriguing. This book in particular is poignant and real in describing aging Olive, the way she copes, and what she learns about herself. Olive continues to be a strange and enigmatic woman, brutally candid but also refreshingly honest–I can’t get enough of her.
Most public libraries have the four-part HBO miniseries of Olive Kitteridge in DVD format starring Frances McDormand, or I would think it could be streamed online. It’s very true to the book and is a pleasure to watch.
Clare Macintosh is a favourite go-to author for domestic thrillers. I Let You Go and I See You among others, were easy to read and kept me on the edge of my seat. So I was quick to read a copy of her latest novel, but it is completely different. This emotional book is still fiction but it gets personal–it is based on her own experience of losing a child.
The premise is heart breaking. Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers–unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors have no choice but to make the parents choose between painful treatments to prolong his life or allow him to die naturally. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son. The matter goes to court and what happens afterwards takes up the second half of the novel.
The suspense and intrigue is in how the tragedy plays out and affects people and their relationships. It reminded me of Jodi Picoult’s bestseller My Sister’s Keeper. The first half was beautifully written and I thought this would be a great novel that would be relatable and redemptive for parents in these types of nightmare situations. But with all due respect to the author for writing from the heart, I found the second half repetitive, pointless, overlong and there were confusing bits that I never understood. The narrative arc felt weak and I almost bailed on it many times. As for parents who actually have to make such an impossible choice, I think this would be a very hard and triggering book to read because of what happens, but I can’t tell you why without giving spoilers.
Being a devout library user, rarely do I ever buy a book. This time I made an exception because it was by a favourite author and I was charmed by both the title and the lovely cover. But if I wouldn’t have bought it, I don’t think I would have finished it. As with Commonwealth (which I also oddly bought on a whim and was disappointed in), I am realising that I liked Patchett’s earlier works like Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage much better. I must be an outlier in this, since reviews for both of Patchett’s recent novels have been glowing. Incidentally, in case you plan to read it by listening to the audio, it is narrated by Tom Hanks.
This book is a classic example of an inanimate object taking its place as a character in the novel. I connected fully with the house and feel I could recognise it if I saw it, but sadly connected less fully with any of the people or the story line. Not much happens in this novel and I found it rather boring, to be honest, despite the flyleaf promises of suspense and a ‘tour de force.’
Danny and Maeve are exiled by their stepmother but for years and years to come they continue to park outside of the house just to stare and remember and reflect. They go on with their lives, but the obsessive stalking clearly weighs them down. The story explores relationships tainted by loss, longing, and a sense of displacement. In the end there is a bit of redemption, but for me it was too little too late.
Driving through rural America while reading this book was so perfect. Rhodes makes the characters come alive with the way he describes them…flawed, salt of the earth people just trying to cope with life and living. As we drove along cornfields, swept over soft green hillsides, and crept through tired and deflated little towns, it was possible to picture who might be living there. Rhodes’ writing is so generous and insightful without even a hint of cliché. This is slow reading that brings quiet understanding, so it won’t be for everyone, but it is a wonderful story to sink into for those who love authors who can speak to the wisdom of the soul and turn the mundane into profound reflections on life and humanity. Although having said that, shocking things do happen and at times the pace is fast-moving enough. Other authors who are similar in style are Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge), William Kent Kruger (Ordinary Grace), Mary Lawson (Crow Lake), and Marilynne Robinson (Gilead).
As a young man David Rhodes worked in fields, hospitals and factories across Iowa. After receiving an MFA degree from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (always pay attention to writers who have studied here, they are the best!) he published three novels from 1972-75. In 1977 a motorcycle accident left him paralysed from the chest down. After ten years he published again, with this sequel to his earlier novel Rock Island Line and prequel to Jewelweed which I am eager to read next. Rhodes lives with his wife, Edna, in rural Wisconsin.
In ten words or less this book is about a bunch of people muddling through in small town Wisconsin. But it is so much more than that. There is connection to the land, to place, and to community. There is mistrust of big business and industrialisation–things that are a threat to a simple way of life. There is a fidelity to good values, hard work, and something to believe in. Here’s what Goodreads says, “The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Grahm guard their dairy farm, and family, from the wicked schemes of their milk co-op. Lifelong paraplegic Olivia suddenly starts to walk, only to find herself crippled by her fury toward her sister and caretaker, Violet. Recently retired Rusty finds a cougar living in his haymow, dredging up haunting childhood memories. Winifred becomes pastor of the Friends church and stumbles on enlightenment in a very unlikely place. Driftless finds the author’s powers undiminished in this unforgettable story that evokes a small-town America previously unmapped, and the damaged denizens who must make their way through it.”