“Olive, Again” follows up precisely where the first novel left off, a few days after the conclusion of “Olive Kitteridge”. “Olive, Again” is a follow-up of Olive Kitteridge and follows the inhabitants of Crosby, Maine through the next stage of their lives with the same honesty and humanity. However, even though this is a sequel, the stories are not interconnected to the extent that you would necessarily need to go through the first book in order to understand the second book. Well, but of course, reading the first one will offer you a better understanding of where the book is coming from.
Olive is a retired math teacher who lives in the seaside hamlet of Crosby, Maine. She is shown to be in her seventies when the novel begins. Olive’s personality remains consistent even as she evolves as a person. Strout tells a variety of stories about Olive (sometimes as a key character, sometimes simply in passing) that shed insight on the complexities of different emotions and interpersonal relationships.
“Olive, Again” begins a few weeks after the last narrative in Olive Kitteridge, when she begins spending some time with Jack Kennison. They lose connection for a while since Olive has switched off her answering machine, but they ultimately connect. They marry throughout the course of the novel, and Jack dies in his sleep eight years later.
In the meantime, Olive realizes that she might not have been a good mother to Christopher. Olive and Christopher gradually mend their relationship. Olive had a heart attack towards the end of the novel, and Christopher rushes to visit her. He arranges for her care and finally assists in placing her in an assisted living facility. Olive meets Isabelle, an acquaintance with a similar history to Olive, at the assisted living home. At the end of the novel, Olive muses on how fortunate she has been and the affection she has received, even if she does not understand why and how she had received the same.
There are some other stories included in the book as well. Here Olive does not always play the central role. Sometimes she is just the observer, as good as the reader.
“Cleaning,” tells the story of a little neglected girl who has an improper sexual awakening when an old guy bribes her to touch herself.
“Helped” returns to the Larkin family (whose son had stabbed a lady 29 times), where their daughter Suzanne is concerned about becoming more and more like her parents and doubts her lack of faith as a consequence of everything that has occurred.
“Light” is about Olive‘s connection with Cindy, a cancer sufferer, and how Olive helps Cindy deal with Tom, her husband.
“The Walk,” tells the story of an elderly guy who saves the life of a drug-addicted person, which inspires the elderly man to value his own life even more.
“The Exiles” features characters from Strout’s novel “The Burgess Boys“, who grew up in Shirley Falls, a neighboring town.
“The End of the Civil War Days,” tells the story of a warring couple who reconcile after the husband faints and they realize that they are all that they have.
Strout, explaining the origins of her sequel states, “That Olive! She continues to surprise me, continues to enrage me, continues to sadden me, and continues to make me love her.”
Olive could be described as a blunt busybody, a gossip, but she is also capable of generosity, and many of these stories revolve around the reciprocal advantages that arise when people help one another.
A dying young lady who feels abandoned appreciates Olive’s visits, but she wonders whether Olive confides in her because Olive believes she will die soon. Olive corrects her, saying it’s because she feels at ease talking to her. Strout turns a heartbreakingly tragic tale into a beautiful conclusion when she revisits the Larkins, whose son was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a lady 29 times, as we read in Olive Kitteridge.
Throughout the pages and the journey of Olive through various melancholic events, Strout talks about life in “Olive, Again”. Unlike “Olive Kitteridge” which concentrated more on the nuances of melancholy, anxiety, contentment, and joy, Strout’s follow-up novel delves into a broader range of subjects, including faith, class differences, an adolescent’s difficult sexual awakening, and the complexities of familial connections. “Olive, Again” is a bit darker than “Olive Kitteridge” at places, yet it is also more optimistic.
Strout’s characters face adversities of various sorts— domestic abuse, parental neglect, travesties of aging such as loss of independence, and excruciating loneliness — but they persevere. Olive, despite her harsh opinions, learns that compassion can transform the image. “How is your life going, Betty?” Olive inquires of a home health assistant. The inquiry is essential; it’s the first step toward empathy. Olive, once again, eloquently reminds the readers that empathy, a necessity for love, contributes to life being “not unhappy”.
However, this volume of stories was somewhat more patchy than the ones in “Olive Kitteridge”. A handful of the stories stood rather poor, which was not something that would stand a chance of happening while reading “Olive Kitteridge”. There are some rough patches in the book where the endings might not make much sense to the readers as they might be expecting something a bit more substantial. Some of the decisions that the characters take might end up making zero sense to the readers. Such loopholes never existed in the first book.
Well, when it all boils down to whether or not to read the book, the answer is simple. If you have read the first book and liked it, then you will probably like this one too. If you have not read the first book though, the sequel might still make sense to you and might be an enjoyable read. However, it is best if you go through the first one first. It helps to grasp the characters in their entirety, further bettering your experience of reading the book.