A woman of many words
Who are your favorite female protagonists?
Last week, my dinner companions and I agreed that Olive Kitteridge is our favorite fictional character among modern novels. Others with credentials must think likewise, for the book with the same title, “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout, won the Pulitzer Prize.
The dinner table conversation continued. What other female characters commanding a book’s title had touched us as deeply? Kitteridge was not as young as Anna Karenina, not as sexy as Moll Flanders, not as intriguing as Madame Bovary and not as urbane as Mrs. Dalloway. In fact, Kitteridge is ordinary, like you and me. She is not beautiful or saintly; she is human, yet complicated. For Strout to capture her exquisite ordinariness in the prosaic setting of Crosby, Maine — which could as easily be Sapulpa, Okla. — is genius.
The 274-page novel is a compilation of 13 short stories told from Kitteridge’s side and different points of view: those of her husband, her son and her neighbors. Halfway through a chapter, the reader is sometimes at a loss to find the connection to Kitteridge. For example, one story narrated by a former student (Kitteridge was a seventh-grade teacher) in the midst of her own adult life’s struggles finds strength by remembering her former teacher’s adage, “Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer wrote, “Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. The book is a page-turner because of her.”
So many memorable women protagonists have been written by men — Kitteridge is the exception. I found it interesting that on April 13 and 22, TCC Continuing Education offers two one-night classes named “Ten Secrets Women/Men Need to Know to Write Authentic Male/Female Characters,” taught by Mark Darrah or Mary Jane Morgan, respectively.
Only 10 — sort of scary.
Who are your favorite women protagonists? Were you as touched by Olive Kitteridge as I was? Share your thoughts below.