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'Olive Kitteridge' takes 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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"Olive Kitteridge," a set of linked stories about a gruff, 60-something school teacher in a coastal town in Maine, is the work that has won its author, Elizabeth Strout, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

"As heroines go, Olive Kitteridge is about as far away from a Disney princess as Maine is from Florida," wrote Yvonne Zipp in her review of "Olive Kitteridge" for the Monitor (5/16/08).  "Before her retirement, the gruff 60-something was 'the seventh-grade math teacher that kids were scared of.' And the years haven’t exactly mellowed her."

"And yet," adds Zipp, "as she stumps her way through Elizabeth Strout’s translucent new 'novel in stories,' 'Olive Kitteridge', she’s absolutely beautiful."

"Strout makes a reader feel protective, even tender, toward Olive – despite her prickliness," notes Zipp.

The 13 linked stories also serve as microcosms of small-town life, "with its gossip, small kindnesses, and everyday tragedies."

Olive herself has conflicted feelings about her fellow man –  “She didn’t like to be alone. Even more, she didn’t like being with people.”

And yet, in the end, writes Zipp, "When Olive’s story is over, she doesn’t end with bitterness, but equal parts gratitude and regret. 'It baffled her, the world. She didn’t want to leave it yet.' Readers will know just how she feels."

When tackling a Maine coastal town, Strout knows whereof she writes. She was raised in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire.

She is also the author of "Amy and Isabelle" (1998), a mother-daughter young adult novel set in a small New England town, and "Abide with Me" (2006) about a minister in a Maine town during the Cold War.


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