“There is a bland vacation quality to most Maine literature,” Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in 1971. Back then, such a pronouncement might have lead to a bar fight in Portland, but today the critic would just be laughed out of the joint. Elizabeth Strout is one reason why; Olive Kitteridge, her novel about a decidedly unbland heroine battling depression, loss, jealousy, and familial psychodrama in the fictional town of Crosby, Maine, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. (The HBO series based on the book and starring Frances McDormand won eight Emmys.)
Olive, Again is a collection of interconnected short stories much like its predecessor—that is, reliably moving in parts. There is still the depression, the loss, the jealousy, and the psychodrama that made the first book so great, but the poet Randall Jarrell once said that the definition of a novel “is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it,” and thus, the book is also uneven, much like the jagged coast of Maine, where its stories are set.