Why you should read Elizabeth Strout

by bethanybump

Author_BurgessBoys (Leonardo Cendamo).r

Around Christmas I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and was changed forever. When I was younger I would read books and declare “I am changed forever” after every third book or so and it was true every time and I love that I continue to feel this way.

Strout is truly a beautiful writer and I wonder what kind of a storyteller and observer I would be if I had never read her. After Olive Kitteridge, a collection of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a few years ago, I devoured her other books in a few days time. Amy and Isabelle still haunts me. Abide With Me to a lesser extent.

Her next novel, The Burgess Boys, comes out this month. It’s as though, upon finishing the last of her books and crying out for more of her written word, she felt my desperation and expedited the publication process along.

If I could just describe the way her writing makes me feel I could describe everything it is I love about the craft of writing, and probably more specifically, what it is I love about the small details that make up a life or even a humdrum afternoon. But I can’t describe it. So, I’ll just leave with a quote.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly . . . No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered. . . . But here they were, and Olive pictured two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union–what pieces life took out of you.” —Olive Kitteridge