Day 4

A cranky retired schoolteacher who stars in Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel-in-stories, we meet Olive Kitteridge as she’s approaching old age sad, lonely, and “starving” (though not for food) in the coastal Maine town where she’s lived most of her life.

There’s a lot to be said about what Strout has done with Olive’s stories and those of her neighbors and friends, and most of it would be about the loneliness that paralyzes women and men who reach middle age stuck in marriages that are stale or unappreciated, with children who’ve hurt, deserted, and sometimes disgraced them.

They hide their desperation. They go to church, drive to work, sit across the table from one another in silence, and fail to connect even though they desperately wish they could.

And then, at last, Olive walks.  

In one of the most the most life-affirming stories in this moving collection, Olive takes her dog for a daily walk along the river in her town.  Alone, and ostensibly purposeless, Olive finds purpose and routine (“Get yourself a schedule and stick to it”) by waking and sleeping with the sun, and spending a good part of her morning doing a regular six mile circuit with her dog, along the river.

Walking by the water fills Olive’s morning with purpose. But Strout’s doing something else with Olive here, in this story that concludes the collection: she’s putting her right alongside the river of life. Out with the joggers and and other  “sweaty young bodies,” Olive’s soul is revived. She finds new purpose and a renewed vigor for life overall.

I love that Strout has Olive walking along the river, and I love that Olive is annoyed by the youth and vigor she sees there. And I love that despite everything she’s been through, and all the inner resistence inherent in her personality, walking beside the river, Olive finds herself immersed in the messy tenderness of longing.  

In honor of Olive Kitteridge, I walked along the Delaware River canal tow paths today, and through  Washington’s Crossing State Park. It was glorious.