The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This book feels very Austenian at first: how a family makes money is much less topical than how it keeps it via strategic ball-going and strategic marrying. But the point where this novel ceases being Austenian is where it starts becoming good.

"How vulgar: they do not clothe their cherubs."

Let me get something straight. The Strategic Ball-going Society can be the setting of a story I thoroughly enjoy, but I need the protagonists to hate it. I need them to hate it like Winston and Julia hated Oceania. It’s not a question of solidarity with the characters — it simply guarantees something consequential will happen in this stupid, soul crushing place. Rock this boat, somebody. You’re limited to drawing room gossip sessions about the Miltons and the Granbys and the Skillingbrokes while you plan your luncheons: do something more worthy of contemplation than marry each other after pursuing the wrong people for 350 pages.

But The Age of Innocence is not what its opening suggests. Edith Wharton does a head fake toward Austen and then makes a fast cut toward Thomas Hardy, and what you eventually find is a pair of lovers struggling to liberate each other from their societal Purgatory.

New York in the 1870s is a very small place if you’re rich. It marks the twilight years of “Society” (the kind you capitalize) — where high-standing families intermarry and reputations are made or broken depending on who invites you to dinner. The Age of Innocence is about a period in America where the old money tradition is about to marginalized by people who can actually get rich, too, by doing something. The American Dream had antagonists, and these established aristocrats are them, perched on high and digging their talons in harder than ever.

Newland Archer is the grown-up golden boy who is discovering, albeit slowly, that he wants more than the staid tradition of the same dinners, the same operas, the same smoking room conversations with the same intellectually unambitious people. And he’s discovering this too late: he is betrothed to May Welland, pixie-like Stepford wife extraordinaire. May’s cousin, Ellen, has returned disgraced from Europe after fleeing a marriage gone sour. Taking pity on her (and to avoid marrying into a tainted family), Newland helps Ellen recover her reputation and legally counsels her not to divorce her overseas husband.

And expectedly, he becomes drawn to her. She’s a candid free spirit who lives alone among the Bohemians and is a natural coquette. Newland can barely bring himself to acknowledge it when it’s happening, but his attachment to “Madame Olenska” is growing much stronger than is… appropriate.

Pangs of New York

Wharton’s discreet prose kept me leaning into the book: character reactions are subtle but telling, and notorious affairs are hush-hush but there. The most memorable scenes for me were the dark, intense fireside encounters between Ellen and Newland and Newland’s wedding day, where you reach the distinct, terrifying conclusion that he isn’t just marrying May– he’s marrying everybody in the social circle.

Speaking of the social circle, it is indeed populated with vivid characters who are mostly loathsome except the titanic Mrs. Manson Mingott, where Wharton dispenses all her best fat jokes (“…the immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life [was] like a flood of lava on a doomed city…”)

Granted, when the plot enters the latter half of the book, the record starts to skip.

Ellen: Here we are in a secret place. I’m thinking of going back to my husband.

Archer: No! No! No! No! No!

Ellen: Then, will you leave May?

Archer: No.

[Repeat]

Obviously the conflict is between Newland’s desire for Ellen and his obligation to family and tradition, and there’s enough tension here to keep you guessing if this putz will actually take the plunge… even if nothing happens for a while. But how much does he actually love Ellen as a person as opposed to a promise of lust and freedom? By that same token, since May is merely a smiling android, you get the impression that the person definitely doesn’t hold the appeal for him, either, but rather the promise of a secure lifestyle.

The book’s uncompromising ending is a thing to admire, and sealed it for me that when I closed The Age of Innocence I closed a great (though sometimes irksome) book. And one better catering to my cynicism than I expected, which should get me excited for Wharton’s more famous Ethan Frome. I hear that one ends quite nasty.

Borders

Just around the corner from my apartment stood two bookstores. Soon, there’ll just be one.

A Barnes & Noble and a Borders actually faced each other on opposite sides of my street for more than a decade. I worked at the B&N for three years. Especially because of the location, customers assumed that a sort of animosity existed between the stores. “You don’t have [insert book title]?” we’d sometimes hear. “Well, I’ll just go across the street to Borders!” They’d forget that the competitive drive is mostly lost on a floor-level employee who isn’t paid commission. Besides, we don’t mind Borders. It’s a bookstore like us, for crying out loud.

We would talk about each new development in the Borders bankruptcy saga and shake our heads. Nobody wanted to see another bookstore disappearing. Not even our management, really: while store sales would increase, it would be a morbid reminder of an unnerving trend.

Granted, that particular Borders was never my bookstore of choice. It’s being located in the mall made its clientele naturally more annoying. Also, it presented itself as more of a media retailer, so in spite of being the second largest bookselling chain in America, it never truly felt like a bookstore to me. So even before I scanned and shelved hardcovers for its competitor across the street, I rarely shopped there.

But with it closing, and me needing the third George R.R. Martin novel, I went to have a look and pay my respects. This weekend Borders was in its 25-to-50%-off throes of liquidation, teeming with customers with only a handful of employees still on the payroll to attend to them. Walking the aisles and squeezing past other shoppers, I couldn’t help feeling like a carrion feeder. I avoided eye contact with the few Borders booksellers left, people who I knew were being cast into a persistently shitty Colorado Springs job market. A few of these employees will get jobs at the Barnes & Noble across the street just in time for the seasonal hiring blip. Many of my B&N coworkers were themselves picked up from McKinzey-White, B. Dalton, and other small bookstores that folded in the area years ago.

McKinzey-White! Come to think of it, my neighborhood used to have three bookstores. Now, even if you count the large used shops, there are only four bookstores in this entire city of over half-a-million people.

Ten years ago, it was ridiculous to think that shopping at a Barnes & Noble — a carnivorous corporate behemoth viewed to glut itself en masse on Mom n’ Pop bookshops — would feel like supporting your neighborhood bookstore. It’s come to that. The digital reading age is of course eliminating the need of the brick-and-mortar store for all but the traditionalists: people who feel an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction when wandering aisles filled with promising volumes that they can tilt down, flip open, peruse, and carry with them to a table to read. But it’s impractical for the existing bookstores to keep the inventory they had before the e-book revolution. The biggies will inevitably downsize, for most of their product is now, well, incorporeal, and it’ll be unnecessary to pay rent and utilities for the same large building spaces as before. Even if a giant like Barnes & Noble continues to grow as a company, the stores themselves will eventually condense into more boutique-style shops over time. In that sense, chains like B&N and Books-A-Million will feel more like homey little bookshops than you ever expected, and yes, there can only be fewer of them.

This is the natural progression of things, I thought while staring at what was left on the Borders shelves. No Storm of Swords — not a copy of Martin there to be found. The atmosphere was overwhelming me, and I left quickly. Until I finally buy an eBook reader, I’m going to have to get used to leaving bookstores empty-handed.

And now, without Borders, many neighborhoods will now no longer have a bookstore.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

People want Nick Hornby to be a better author than he really is. As far as I’ve read/heard from fellow readers, he’s an unfailingly likable voice whose novels still tend turn out meh. Granted, these are other people’s opinions and not mine, a fact I’m slightly ashamed of since Hornby’s the kind of guy I should have already delved into ages ago. (In a way I have: in his regular column at The Believer, he was the nicest devil-may-care book critic I’ve ever read.)

Utterly fails to deliver on engrossing promise of its title.

Whether it’s his best known books adapted to film (High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch) or his other screenplay work (An Education), Hornby’s exposure is more cinematic than literary. His primary gig is the Messy Romantic Dramedy, and if I may weigh in after reading Juliet, Naked, I’d say he’s damn good at it.

Annie is finally breaking up with Duncan, the obsessed webmaster of a site dedicated to 80’s folk rocker Tucker Crowe. Tucker Crowe produced a landmark breakup album in 1986 that is still dissected daily by a handful of music snobs, with Duncan being king snob. Annie commits the ultimate betrayal in their relationship by listening to a to-be released demo version of the album (“Juliet Naked”) before Duncan can, and she doubles her transgression by not finding it to be unparalleled genius. Duncan allows her to post her lukewarm review on his site, and soon she is emailed by someone claiming to be Tucker Crowe. The artist, himself, agrees with her that Juliet Naked is lousy (and it later it becomes apparent he only released it for what little money it would pull in.). “The idea,” writes Tucker, “that a person with ears could listen to those two sets of recordings and decide that the shitty, sketchy one is better than the one we sweated blood over is baffling to me.” Thus begins Annie’s correspondence (and schoolgirl crush) with the former cult icon who lives across the pond in America.

Industry Fun Fact: Nick Hornby, Jonathan FranzenJennifer Egan, and other literary novelists apparently colluded last year to write about Washed-Up Musicians as the theme of some sort of workshop contest I was unaware of.

The early stages of this book nagged me. Of course, Hornby must establish that Annie and Duncan are as dynamic as boiled liver, but that doesn’t make reading about them any less dull. The worst part is that their lives, or at least Duncan’s, revolve around a rock album that doesn’t exist, making them less relatable than garden gnomes. It’s difficult to immerse myself in a book that seems to center around a fictitious celebrity, and as in this novel’s case, one that’s supposed to occupy the same dimension as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen, and I was expecting that no amount of authenticating detail was going to make Tucker Crowe seem like a real person.

Until, of course, I met Tucker Crowe the person. Somehow that sold the illusion. Seeing the musician’s fall from grace and his campaign of redemption through his six-year-old son led me not only to accept that his legendary album “Juliet” was real, but I wanted it to be real.

Juliet, Naked is quite fine as a romantic novel, but it’s also pointed study of the relationship between artists and their work, as well as artists and their “experts.” The tendency of a fan to over-analyze of a piece of work (as Duncan realizes, “Maybe he’d spent too long translating something that had been in English all along”) and its artist to despise said work just rings true through these characters. The ironies are fun– especially watching Duncan react to his ex dating his musical idol– without one iota of meanness. Because Hornby’s a nice guy, you know.

In terms of plotting a relationship, Hornby will trade cleanliness for awkwardness at every turn. I dig this commitment to authenticity, that Annie and Tucker are tentative and wobbly with each other, but it makes the whole plot seem tentative and wobbly. A less “authentic” romance plot has more clear-cut direction– here they grow closer, grow apart, then closer again, etc.– that’s honestly more gripping fiction albeit a less accurate depiction of how relationships actually progress. That being said, Juliet, Naked’s ending, especially, could have benefitted from a little less ambiguity. To wrap things up more tidy-like, you know, with a nice snog.

What?

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I kind of liked Christopher Moore after reading Fool, but that’s saying I kind of liked pizza after eating a Totino’s. Fool’s not a good book, but it was my first exposure to a damn good, damn funny comic novelist, so what it gained for me in novelty was immediately lost in retrospect when I found something better. Better being A Dirty Job, which, if you ask someone their favorite Moore novel and they don’t say Lamb, they usually name this one.

Sell-out Fun Fact: I feel sorry for long-time fans of this author considering the new direction he’s taking. Moore appears to be embracing a completely different fan base: the readers who like his lousy vampire series. Seriously: Fucksox?

It glows in the dark! The cover glows in the dark!

Charlie Asher, a San Francisco thrift store owner, thinks he’s Death. Or something close to it; ever since his wife died after giving birth to their baby Sophie, it seems random people around him are biting the dust, starting with a guy getting “creamed” by the number forty-one bus. He later learns via a mysterious gift called The Great Big Book of Death, he is what is known as a Death Merchant. When someone dies, his/her soul inhabits an object, like a CD or piece of jewelry, that was very dear to him/her in life. This object then needs to end up in the hands of its next owner who will then receive the soul. Death Merchants are the middlemen in this cycle, collecting the soul objects and keeping them safe until the buyer comes and unknowingly inherits the soul. Death Merchants can be anybody, including, say, a seven-foot-tall black man in a pastel green suit named Minty Fresh.

Charlie eventually accepts his new role, strolling the streets of San Francisco wearing dapper suits and carrying a sword cane, being exactly the kind of Death Merchant I would like to be. But under the streets lurk demons who seek to acquire the souls, which would give them the power to manifest above ground and sweep the world into darkness. And Sophie can apparently kill something by pointing at it and saying “Kitty.” Trouble is brewing.

What surprised me most about A Dirty Job wasn’t that it was heartfelt, but that the heartfelt sequences actually worked. Moore never seems satisfied just writing a silly book, and for better or worse he tries to construct touching moments within his batshit hurricane. I’ve wondered if there’s a serious literary novelist in Moore trying to get out, and only after reading A Dirty Job do I think there is. But this is a book that’s rooted in loss and grieving, not just regarding the deaths of those around Charlie, but Charlie of course, who is himself a widower struggling to let go of Rachel while his life goes bananas. To even attempt sincere sentimentality in the same book that has Frankenstein animals scurrying around in period costumes is… audacious. But Moore earns it.

I don’t have many complaints with this book besides it being a tad overlong, and that the soul object rules, which are supposedly Buddhist-based, aren’t terribly coherent. This dampens the tension as the story goes on: the demons are steadily gaining strength, but nobody ever knows what’s going wrong or who’s dropping the ball. The novel spends significant time hashing out rules that by and large don’t seem to matter.

Great Moore Lines With No Context Whatsoever

  • “Mrs. Ling couldn’t help but do a quick appraisal of the monetary value of the slippery red dogwoods currently pummeling her landlord’s oxford-cloth shirt like piston-driven leviathan lipsticks.”
  • “The image of a well-dressed older woman macking on a goopish spoonful of artificial boob spooge was running across the lobes of his brain like a stuttering nightmare.”
  • “He checked the toast, not trusting the pop-up mechanism because the toaster people sometimes just liked to fuck with you.”

If you’re looking for a “funny” novel, I can’t point you to a better place. It’s packed with a smorgasbord of likable characters (the San Francisco setting enables Moore to believably assemble an absurdly diverse cast), and the jokes are consistently great.

Even the parts that “aren’t funny” are so thoughtfully written, you could imagine them in a decent literary novel about mourning. Yet these can be followed by a scene where the main character gets humped by two 400-pound hellhounds named Alvin and Mohammed, and it’s still okay.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

In most people’s idea of fantasy, you practically run into elves at the post office. Oh, yeah, that’s a dragon over there. We’re up to the eyeballs with the bloody things– they’re like pigeons nowadays.

Because I'm not getting the HBO tie-in cover. Even if it means buying one with some generic sword on it.

But George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series establishes a world that’s historically recognizable yet with the potential for the fantastical. A few surrealities are apparent early on, like the walking dead and the summers and winters that last for years. But the bulk of the story is grounded dirt-deep in bloody, petty, gritty politics, so to see a dragon here would be an actual “holy shit” moment.

In this sense, I feel like A Game of Thrones is the start of maybe the perfect fantasy series for me to read. Many friends of mine have figured as much, but also recommended it to me based on the idea it’s really freakin’ good.

And yes, it is. Where do I sign up for the club, and how much are dues?

(Is the HBO series faithful to the books? If I had HBO and saw more than the pilot episode, I could tell you more from experience. As far as I know, the TV adaptation’s most drastic deviation from the books is dropping the “A” in the title.)

(Spoilerish Fun Fact: I wonder how many fans of the show are pissed that Sean Bean’s presence in the series has just been… truncated.)

The story centers around House Stark of Winterfell, a castle that guards the frosty northern fringe of the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Eddard Stark, who is basically Atticus Finch with a greatsword, is selected by his old friend the King to become his new second-in-command (The Hand of the King). “The King eats, they say, and the Hand takes the shit,” says King Robert Baratheon with a laugh. Lord Stark reluctantly agrees to leave his icy outpost and take half his family to King’s Landing. The problem is that the position was recently vacated upon the death of the previous Hand of the King, and perhaps by not-so natural causes. And the court of King’s Landing, we find, is a nest of vipers that tests Stark’s moral fortitude.

The chapters alternate their focus among a handful of characters, all of them members of House Stark with a couple exceptions. Daenerys is a thirteen-year-old heiress to an all-but-destroyed dynasty who is wedded into a Mongolian-like army of nomads. You get to watch this waifish ingenue grow into the matriarch of the barbarians.

Whenever I see a Tyrion chapter, I become happy. He is a vertically-challenged heir to House Lannister, which opposes the Starks in the ensuing war, but you never quite know where his allegiances lie. Lacking any physical potency in this brutal world, Tyrion survives by his cunning, and he gets all the best lines as this story’s Falstaff. (When Tyrion is arrested at an inn, the innkeeper shouts to the captors, “Don’t kill him here!” and Tyrion shouts, “Don’t kill him anywhere!”)

The perspective shifting is about the only way I can picture writing this story: it allows Martin to dig into the intense intimacy of the characters while maintaining the grand sweep of the narrative, as these characters are strewn about two continents as a war begins to tear them apart.

Winter is Coming

Martin cultivates the sense of dread that, while you don’t know exactly how or when, disaster is coming and on many fronts. Example: for 8,000 years a 700-hundred-foot-high wall spanning an isthmus stands to protect the known world from… from what? What’s on the other side of that wall? Very bad things, given the Prologue that opens the book like a medieval horror tale. This is just one of maybe seventeen powder kegs set afuse in AGoT, and you can hear them hissing through almost every chapter.

I think Martin writes very well if lacking editorial oversight. He belabors the obvious as if it’s been months since you read the last couple chapters, and he has the unfortunate knack for singling out the stupidest phrase a character utters and assigning it as their motto to be repeated until you reach for a claw hammer to pry your eyes out. And when it comes to Tyrion being a dwarf, Jon being a bastard, or Varys being a eunuch, Martin beats a dead horse like Taylor Hawkins wailing out a drum solo. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-he’s-a-bastard-bastard-bastard-thumpa-thumpa-thumpity-kisssh!

I counted six instances where characters actually said the phrase “game of thrones,” and that shit is unacceptable. The next book had better not subject me to Robb saying, “This next battle will truly be A CLASH OF KINGS!” or  Catelyn complaining, “These men are never satisfied until they’ve had A CLASH OF KINGS!”

And I will read the next book. I don’t usually do that– on the account that life is too short and packed with too many wonderful authors to continue down a single vein for very long. But this series is something else. You don’t have be a fan of the genre to enjoy it (the success of the HBO series is no surprise). I imagine you can be the avid reader of this fantasy series without necessarily jeopardizing your sex life. That it happens to be great makes it all the more special.

Guys Reading Girls

You could argue that I typically don’t. (Pssh! Typical guy!) Looking at my Books Reviewed page is telling in this regard.

Books I reviewed: 55

Books I reviewed that were by women: 10

Books by women that I highly recommended: 2

So maybe you’d find it hypocritical of me to praise the existence of this list I found, but here it is:

250 Books By Women All Men Should Read

This was compiled by Joyland in response to Esquire’s recently re-posted “75 Books Every Man Should Read”, which drew some ire because it has fewer chicks than a Star Wars movie. According to Joyland“The problem was that the list was all male writers, save for lone lady Flannery O’Connor. This really does imply that men don’t/can’t/shouldn’t read women and we were pretty sure that wasn’t the case among readers.”

1 woman out of 75 writers! Bet my ratio looks much less piggish now. You can practically hear Esquire smashing Miller Lite cans against its forehead.

Naturally, I find Joyland’s list a lot more interesting, and it contains more authors that I haven’t already read. Ironically, though, their list actually includes… a couple guys (apparently since David B. Feinberg and Christopher Isherwood were gay, they count as women). Since it’s compiled of several people’s suggestions, some books appear multiple times, like Middlemarch and Beloved. And there’s more representation by actual male contributors than I expected.

This gets one thinking about one’s own contribution to said list, being a gentleman who has certainly enjoyed his share of literary works by ladies. I’ll name here my five best female-written books for dudes to read–a couple of which I think are actually better enjoyed by dudes.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Depending on the day, this is my all-time favorite novel. Regeneration’s brilliance shines on nearly every aspect of masculinity in the face of war, including generational strife between sons and fathers, the reality of bravery and heroism, and insomnia-inducing moral conundrums. The third book in this trilogy (The Ghost Road) is the one that got the Booker, but the first installment is #1 with me.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

One of the manliest books I read last year– in the way I’ve always thought The Prince to be a manly book. It could be read as a political survival tale in Henry VIII’s England: a time where anyone can die any way for any reason. Cromwell takes care of shit.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I tease the death- and flower-obsessed Woolf sometimes, but the God’s honest is I truly enjoyed this one. And like Regeneration, a large part of it concerns the horror of the Great War: through Septimus Smith, Woolf showed infinitely more understanding of shellshocked war veterans than the male experts of her time.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

May well be the best psychological thriller I’ve ever read.

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

I haven’t read a Cather that I wouldn’t recommend to a dude (don’t let this cover mislead you, though). Her writing has an irresistible quality on its own, but what lodges these books in my memory is her ability to write from the perspective of a boy in love. I almost put My Antonia here: I’m not sure if I’d like it quite as much on a reread, but I do know I’ll always love the more vibrant A Lost Lady.

And when you’re done with those, read some Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker and Agatha Christie and then come back when you need more suggestions.

As for myself, I’ll be getting to some Edith Wharton real soon, bro, after I do some pullups and go drive a tractor.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

To me these people are Amish, so to make Olive Kitteridge endearing would be no small feat. Small-town USA, particularly northeastern USA, inflicts a sort of narcoleptic apathy on me as I read about it. As if that weren’t enough of a disadvantage, the book’s stories predominantly concern the town’s more Cracker Barrel-y aged citizens; to them, I’d be a member of the younger generation that abandoned them for more exciting things. And, honestly? Abandon them I would.

Ah, the Pulitzer-Oprah combo. But don't be fooled: this book is nothing like The Road.

In real life, Elizabeth Strout was one of these emigrants who’d eventually left for New York City and is fully aware of this cultural chasm. She takes it upon herself to make Olive and the rest of Crosby, Maine’s denizens relatable to book clubs across America.

The book is a collection of stories: thirteen slices of Americana depicting the lives of people bound together by their suicidal ruminations and shared addiction to doughnuts. The town’s center of gravity (and almost in a physical sense) is of course the titular character, and whether Crosby’s citizens remember her as an intimidating math teacher or as a critical over-sized hen, Olive’s presence is felt nearly everywhere.

We wouldn’t look back on a traditional novel saying, “I liked it, but it did have some shitty chapters.” The story-collection-as-novel is so much more likely to feel uneven.

Good ones here:

“A Little Burst” — The first piece that actually got me to notice Olive, and then like her in a peculiar moment of pettiness she has at the end.

“Winter Concert” — An elderly couple with a perfect-seeming relationship is tested when a past betrayal is suddenly unearthed. What makes this story so powerful to me is how believably (yet not obnoxiously) ideal The Houltons are, with such touches as when Jane looks at her dozing husband and still recognizes the face he had as a boy.

“Ship in a Bottle” — You know a story’s good when you wouldn’t mind seeing it expanded to a full-length novel. I’d rather read about the Harwoods than the Kitteridges.

Not so good ones:

“Incoming Tide” — Shockingly banal with an “It’s a Wonderful Life” resolution to boot.

“The Piano Player” — Not terrible, but its connection to the rest of the stories is too tenuous for it to be here.

“A Different Road” — Olive suffers a bout of “explosive diarrhea” and makes her husband pull over at a hospital so she can use the restroom. Then the staff wants to examine her in case she’s life-threateningly ill. Then two gunmen in ski masks storm the hospital and take everyone hostage. The unmistakable WTF quality of this piece nearly derails the entire book.

Suicide Sounds Nice

Death turns out to be an unexpected coda throughout Olive Kitteridge. Whenever someone isn’t thinking of offing herself, it’s because she realizes she hasn’t long to live, anyway. With every new character that’s introduced, I’m anticipating the off-handed mention that she’d like to hang herself from the marina dock but not before these chrysanthemums get planted, because when I saw Marlene Bonney at the grocery store she said it’s only going to get colder and she’s usually right about these things, so yup, better do ’em now while it’s nice.

Does Podunk, Maine produce such an unbearable existence, or are we to assume that this nearly unanimous ennui is transferable to the rest of us? Say it with me: AMERICANA! The “This Is Us” insinuation of Olive Kitteridge is further validated by the Pulitzer sticker on the jacket. If you don’t feel the resonance of this book, it’s merely an average reading experience.

So what’s Olive like? An insufferable shrew who manages to endear herself as the book goes on? Not exactly. Mostly, she’s impulsive and salty. And yes, she does undergo dramatic development in response to family tragedy, but she’s never what I’d call loathsome, and the softening of her character gets underway too quickly to have much impact. Not that Olive isn’t interesting, but I’m not seeing what the major book reviews are seeing, which is a dynamic literary personage to remain emblazoned upon my psyche from here to my deathbed, that I should recall, “Ah, that Olive Kitteridge! Such humanity– in her human humanness that is us all!”

I never truly disliked this book until the cute, self-congratulatory “A Conversation with Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge” in the back matter:

ES: “You are the most fascinating [character] to me. You are ferocious and complicated and kindly and sometimes cruel. In essence, you are a little bit of each of us.”

[Interviewer]: “That is gorgeously said, Ms. Strout.”

(Jesus Christ. Okay, Later…)

Olive: “You know what else is amazing? This book… I thought it was pretty damn good.”  

Well, I’m glad you did, creation of the author who says whatever the author wants.