cover image Olive, Again

Olive, Again

Elizabeth Strout. Random House, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9654-8

As direct, funny, sad, and human as its heroine, Strout’s welcome follow-up to Olive Kitteridge portrays the cantankerous retired math teacher in old age. The novel, set in small-town coastal Crosby, Maine, unfolds like its predecessor through 13 linked stories. “Arrested” begins just after the first novel ends, with 74-year-old widower Jack Kennison wooing 73-year-old Olive. “Motherless Child” follows the family visit when Olive tells her son she plans to marry Jack. In “Labor,” Olive awkwardly admires gifts at a baby shower, then efficiently delivers another guest’s baby. Olive also offers characteristic brusque empathy to a grateful cancer patient in “Light,” and, in “Heart,” to her own two home nurses—one a Trump supporter, one the daughter of a Somali refugee. “Helped” brings pathos to the narrative, “The End of the Civil War Days” humor, “The Poet” self-recognition. Jim Burgess of Strout’s The Burgess Boys comes to Crosby to visit brother Bob (“Exiles”). Olive, in her 80s, living in assisted care, develops a touching friendship with fellow resident Isabelle from Amy and Isabelle (“Friend”). Strout’s stories form a cohesive novel, both sequel and culmination, that captures, with humor, compassion, and embarrassing detail, aging, loss, loneliness, and love. Strout again demonstrates her gift for zeroing in on ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people to highlight their extraordinary resilience. [em](Oct.) [/em]