Little Bursts


Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge —

A friend asked me on Facebook the other day to post titles of the ten books that have stayed with me. In general, I don’t do favorites, but thinking about books with staying power, the ones that have lingered down the years, that was an interesting ask. I didn’t spend much time on it, which made the list I came up with all the more fun to see when it was done. Like a nice surprise.

1. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
2. What There is to Say We Have Said, Suzanne Marrs
3. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
4. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
5. The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
6. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
7. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
8. Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, Margaret George*
9. Just Kids, Patti Smith
10. Beloved, Toni Morrison

At the bottom of the list I added, I only finished it last Thursday, so I think it’s too fresh to qualify for this assignment, but Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, is sure to rank way up there.

The whole time I was reading the book I couldn’t help – and I tried – but imagine it as a movie, and there’s no one I can imagine playing this role other than the genius Margo Martindale. It was an odd reading experience, wondering whether my already-years-long affection for an actor was bleeding over into my newly developing crush on a made up woman in a story. Something to think about, or not.

I’m just glad that I was not aware until after I finished the book that HBO is actually turning it into a miniseries, in which they have cast Frances McDormand in the title role. Hmmm. As Olive might say, Oh well, I’ll still watch it.

Anyway, the list of books above isn’t ordered, other than to say that #1 is truly #1. I’m not sure what would happen if I started ranking the rest. Luckily, I don’t have to. But Olive. She’s definitely there now. Like in the book, even in the stories where she wasn’t fully present, you always knew she was somewhere close by, and you were glad about it. Olive. One great big little burst.

*shut up


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