It was the fall of 2012 and I was living in an old civic center, across from a train station, where the upstairs offices had been converted into apartments and restaurants lay below. The train station across the street allowed me easy access to Chicago and a library stood grandly in the middle of the road as an oasis for any sort of journey one might desire. I walked to the library frequently and State of Wonder caught my eye one day. It was actually the second book I read by Ann Patchett, the second set it South America, and I loved every moment. I loved the plot, the strong female characters, and especially the ending! It took me two books to fall for Ann Patchett, but fall I did and hard. I now own all her books including books she has essays in, am a member of the First Edition Book Club at the bookstore she co-owns, and have even given her dog a belly rub- see below! I will also be purchasing a signed copy of her book newest book when it comes out this September!
Finishing a second book by a different author today caused me to realize that it takes one book to like an author, but two books to love him or her. Today I spent all day reading Olive Kitteridge, with a brief break to walk in the forest, and have officially added a new favorite author to my schema. I liked Elizabeth Strout at My Name Is Lucy Barton but love her after reading Olive.
Olive Kitteridge is actually a book of short stories, but all revolve around Olive, the high school math teacher, and the people in her Maine town. I devour a good book about New England, but what gets me about Elizabeth is her beautiful writing and her round characters.
For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold.
Elizabeth’s writing is on a different level. The imagery draws me in and I have arrived. She stated in interviews how important it is to write a good sentence. To her, the way a sentence sounds is deeply connected to the story, to the emotions of the story. I guess this is why she won the Pulitzer for it!
In addition, her characters are so well developed, so human. I’ve heard people who hated the character of Olive because of her rudeness, but I couldn’t get enough of her. She reminds me of a relative of mine, very opinionated, who I deeply adore. It’s the story Incoming Tide that really caused me to love Olive because I felt like readers had the opportunity to see another side of her, to see beyond her shell.
I absolutely insist you give an Elizabeth Strout novel a try and add some more character-driven books to your shelves.