If you tuned into last Sunday’s Emmy awards, you might have been a little confused by a crotchety old woman named Olive Kitteridge. Nope, we’re not talking about Frances McDormand; we’re talking about the fictional woman, whose name served as the title of a novel by Elizabeth Strout, which in turn inspired a miniseries on HBO.
The same miniseries that won six Emmys on Sunday night. For the record, that’s two more Emmys than even Game of Thrones won.
Perhaps now McDormand’s comments about books during her acceptance speeches make a little more sense?
“It started as a book. IT STARTED AS A BOOK. Okay, Andy?”
But let us back up a second.
Olive Kitteridge is more than just a book. It’s a collection of 13 short-form stories about people in Portland, Maine. The stories are all related, but at the same time they’re not-so-related because the narrative jumps all over the place. The one thing they all have in common – for better or for worse – is a cranky junior high math school teacher, who also happens to volunteer for a whole slew of things like the Red Cross and a local museum.
Sometimes Olive Kitteridge is the protagonist, and other times the story is told through someone else in her life. In other chapters, she barely gets a page’s notice. But somehow by the end of the book, we really feel like we know this old woman, and we don’t like what we see.
So why on earth would something like that get so much attention?
The thing is, even though there are two chapters told from Olive’s point of view – which you would think makes her a little more likeable – she’s anything but the “hero.” Think of a normal, mean woman who would steal her new daughter-in-law’s possessions out of hate, or who constantly puts down her husband (Richard Jenkins, who also won an Emmy). If you can take that “spirit” of a person, and also have those same spirited people talk a former student out of suicide or help a dying anorexic girl, then you’ve got the gist of Olive Kitteridge.
Kind of like if Nurse Ratched had been painted as the good guy, somehow, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
We tell you, there are some pretty darned heavy, One-Flew-type moments in the book. As in, don’t-bring-this-on-your-next-beach-vacation-to-read kind of heavy. It’s more like the type of book you read when you need some comfort. Or as a reminder that maybe life isn’t so bad after all. Because it’s going to stick with you.
There’s a reason it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
If you’re like Andy Samberg, however, and books just ain’t your thang, the good news is that the HBO miniseries is just as great. It’s pretty true to the words on the page, and the acting is… well, deserving of an Emmy. Several Emmys, in fact. We mean, just look at this face: