This review will contain some cursing. Consider yourself warned, because I don't think I can hold back on this one.
I did not read Olive Kitteridge
because it never sounded interesting to me, but I do recall more than one customer at the bookstore telling me that they didn't enjoy the book because the characters were so, so grossly unlikable.
This is my first Elizabeth Strout but I'm noticing a trend.
This book is ostensibly about the Burgess siblings - big brother Jim and twins Bob and Susan - and the lingering affects of their childhood on their adult lives. Jim grew up to become a famous corporate lawyer, having gained notoriety defending a celebrity client and left their small Maine hometown for New York. Bob, who's always kind of idolized Jim, also moves to New York but he settles for being a Legal Aid attorney. He has a lot of anxiety issues stemming from an accident that killed their father when he was a young boy and often needs to be handled with kid gloves. Susan has stayed in Shirley Falls, where she is a single mother. The novel kicks off when her son, Zach, throws a frozen pig's head into a mosque during Ramadan in an act of teenage buffoonery that's interpreted as a serious hate crime.
The thing is, though, these characters are just awful
to each other for practically no reason. I get difficult family relationships, believe me, but the entirety of the interactions between these siblings is Jim calling Bob a retarded fuck-up, Susan calling Bob incompetent moron, and Bob kind of whimpering to himself. It's one thing to have unlikable characters, but Strout took it to the extreme without offering sufficient exposition for their nastiness and the result is a bunch of people for whom I have no empathy and whose lives I feel no investment.
It's not just the siblings, even the secondary and tertiary characters are all miserable, unpleasant, unredeeming assfaces.
There's also a sidebar regarding the discord between the large Somali refugee population in Shirley Falls and the townspeople. I guess Strout was trying to weave a social commentary on race and prejudice into her story, but it was so clumsy that all it did for me was intensify the dickishness of all the characters.