Some stories are best told indirectly. Elizabeth Strout's 2008 novel "Olive Kitteridge" tells the story of the title character primarily through the eyes of others. The book consists of thirteen short stories, most of which take place in the small fictional town of Crosby, Maine. Olive appears in almost every tale but is seldom the main character and sometimes makes only a fleeting appearance.
Olive is abrasive, impatient, self-absorbed, and disillusioned. She sees herself as a victim and blames others for her misery. In contrast, the Crosby residents enjoy the company of her affable husband, Henry.
The stories are loosely connected and can be read independently - often restating facts made clear in earlier stories. But continuity runs through them all. Each story appears chronologically, and some contain flashbacks that reveal character motivations, and some flashbacks clarify earlier reports. The opening story hints at an affair between Olive and another teacher, who later dies in an automobile accident. In the eleventh story, we learn the details of this relationship.
"Olive Kitteridge" is a look inside the lives of those dwelling in a small town. We see their troubles, thoughts, and emotions. We see their relationships and their failed marriages. We see Olive as others see her and as she sees herself.
The stories contain sadness but also a bit of hope. And Olive begins to discover empathy as she ages. She is slightly less terrible in the last story than in the first.
The following sums up Olive's outlook:
"She didn't like to be alone. Even more, she didn't like being with people."