Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Everyone's been talking about Olive Kitteridge since it's been racking up the awards this year so I decided to see what the fuss was all about. "A novel in stories," OK consists of 13 interlocked tales that all involve--in one degree or another--acerbic, judgmental, funny yet profoundly sad New Englander Olive Kitteridge. Each story has its origin in her small Maine town, so the woods, small shops and restaurants, and even the sea of all play a background yet quietly forceful role . Sometimes Olive is the main character or a secondary character, and we get to see her in all her mistrustful, snappish (but occasionally thoughtful) glory, and other times she's mentioned in passing or comes into a room briefly. But most of the stories that don't revolve around her are as poignant as the ones that show the progression of her life, not a happy one but with small redemptions.
I have to say that although "small Maine town" sounds quaint, like Richard Russo, Strout is focused more on the cold granite side of New England life than the bucolic side :). The stories are about mortality, distance and separation and the imperfections of daily life. The narration is not at all obtrusive while being quite well-written-- and most of the tales really tug at the heartstrings. I definitely recommend it for a sober summer read that will stick with you long after you turn the last page.