Thursday, May 20, 2010

Olive Kitteridge, redux

First of all, yes, I had to look up 'redux' to see if it actually meant what I thought it did...
Basically, I'm just reporting back as promised on my reading group's reactions to this book. Unfortunately, we were a bit thin on the ground due to some other commitments, so the person who loved it and the person who hated it and even the person who suggested it weren't actually there. Still, it was interesting, and perhaps more so to discuss between a few people who didn't have any huge axes to grind.

One thing that stood out for me about this group discussion was that there turned out to be quite a few "talking points". One thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that it was a bit misleading to call this a novel, and I believe the consensus was that it could have been edited without too much trouble into a more seamless whole. One member got very tired of the way that Olive seemed to be referred to in every story as a large woman, and wondered if that was really necessary. She was somewhat mollified by the idea that in the original stories, it might not have come across so much as being hammered with this information.

Beyond that, though, different stories seemed to have different resonances for different people. One member who had undergone her own hospital experiences was very struck by one in which Olive has to struggle for her own dignity in such a situation magnifed to a whole new level. Another member found echoes of some friends' experiences with being told off by adult children, who had felt stunned and silenced into merely listening to these complaints, as it can be argued Olive had to do on one occasion. And yet another member enjoyed some of the small,  unexpected moments, such as one in which Olive figures out what to do in response to a new daughter-in-law who turns out not to like her very much.

Sometimes I get frustrated with the whole notion of book groups. How did this become our preferred method of reading and why is it primarily a women's kind of thing, as it is primarily with ours? But this last evening was a prime example of the beauty of book groups when they're working right, which is that many facets of a book are reflected back to you in which you both remember and learn something new that you wouldn't have come to on your own.

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