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Friday, November 4, 2016

Honest Tears

"No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader."  - Robert Frost

In almost six years of blogging, I have never written back-to-back posts about a book. But as my book journal entry for Elizabeth Strout's 2008 masterpiece "Olive Kitteridge" swelled to record length, I knew I was not done processing the effect these thirteen stories had on me. I can't get Olive out of my head. When did this last happen to you?

A reader of my blog who also read this remarkable book asked me which story was my favorite. Given the somber wisdom of these tales, better to ask which is most memorable. But even that is tricky. In just the week since I finished "Olive Kitteridge", the most memorable story of the bunch has shifted at least twice. Today, "Tulips" - #8 if you read the book in order - has popped into my head several times.

"She stood, waiting for the hug to end." That could be the saddest sentence I've read in the last year. It's Olive, describing her reaction when her husband Henry brings her flowers. "... not wanting to be reminded of what could happen to a family that had seemed as pretty and fresh as a blueberry pie." Olive again, thinking about the Larkins, whose son is imprisoned for life for committing a brutal crime. "You will marry a beast and love her, Olive thought. You will have a son and love him. You will be endlessly kind to townspeople as they come for medicine, tall in your white lab coat." There are two additional sentences describing Henry's life following those three but they contain a spoiler so I left them out. But in five crisp sentences, this talented author sums up a man's entire life.

And re-reading those five sentences as I selected the prose to use in this post, I cried for the second or third time. I would not be surprised to learn Elizabeth Strout did the same as she wrote them.

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