The color red has long been used across cultures and time to symbolize love, lust, sexuality and intimacy. Author Elizabeth Strout delicately, almost imperceptively weaves the color red throughout her novel called Olive Kitteridge.
That Olive is a retired teacher and her story embraces love, betrayal, loss, death and (hints of) sex should come as no surprise. Just as teachers are not above visits to the grocery store or reading racy literature, so is Olive’s story threaded with reality.
-photo courtesy Wikipedia
The acerbic and opinionated, post-mid age, New Englander Olive Kitteridge is an unlikely heroine for a novel. But Elizabeth Strout has managed to pull off something fairly unique in today’s popular market, besides jacket swag from Oprah.
Olive Kitteridge’s character and point of view dominate the book titled for her. Olive is a stoic and insightful retired schoolteacher who doesn’t take well to change in her community or family. Yet change permeates. It swirls around Olive and Crosby Maine like love and lust and death and the Nor’ Easterners they can neither prevent nor protect themselves from.
Unique Character Approach
Unlike books around whereby the story focuses on one character, this book focuses around many. Olive is probably the main character. But, the book has other characters whose stories are told from their point of view. In those chapters, Olive makes various other types of appearances–from that of a cameo, to a mere mention, to being the former teacher who happens to stop and chat with a former student she sees in town, inadvertently prompting him to abort his secret suicide mission, which readers know about, since the story is largely told from his point of view.
About Sex and Red Gloves
So now that you have some backstory and structure, let’s get to the sex. Well not sex directly, but its intimations. The first chapters focus largely on Olive’s husband Henry and his days as a small town pharmacist. Henry develops and infatuation for his assistant, Denise, who is warm, generous of spirit and delicate. All things Olive is not.
After Denise’s young husband is killed, she comes to rely emotionally on Henry. In one scene, the assistant has dropped her glove on the snowy parking lot. Henry picks it up and holds it for the assistant to place her hand inside of it. This simple act would be merely a simple act if Henry weren’t so pained for his attractive assistant’s situation and lost in a sense of longing all balled up with this pain. His internal monologue reads: I talk to you all the time in my head. The glove represents both, protection from the cold and symbolic harsh realities of life, and—the mutual act of dressing Denise’s hand can be seen as symbolic of a wish for further more intimate acts.
-photo courtesy Jackie, via Wikimedia Commons