Olive Kitteridge is a collection of thirteen short stories that are all tied together by one character and one setting. The character, of course, is Olive. The setting is Maine. In fact, the main character has many roles throughout the book. In each chapter, Olive fulfills a different role (sometimes a fairly minor one) and, as a result, this "novel" can be considered truly "episodic."
Some of the interesting character traits that Olive Kitteridge has should strike the reader. Olive is not truly likeable, but she also isn't the enemy. She is clumsy and not very attractive. And yet, Stout won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction due to the very believable character of Olive. In fact, Elizabeth Stout has a varied background that allows her such intimate glimpses into real life.
She practiced law briefly, but found she did not enjoy it. In addition to the law, Strout has also worked cleaning houses, as a secretary, cocktail waitress, and artist's model. She has served as a project worker on elderly abuse, and worked for Legal Services in Syracuse, New York.
All of these experiences allowed Stout to portray the incredibly realistic character of Olive as she travels throughout her life all the way into the final years. This novel (as a collection) is literally the story of Olive's life: her journey.
The thirteen short stories are as follows: "Pharmacy" "Incoming Tide" "The Piano Player" "A Little Burst" "Starving" "A Different Road" "Winter Concert" "Tulips" "Basket of Trips" "Ship in a Bottle" "Security" "Criminal" and "River."