Friday, December 26, 2014

American Writing

I have just finished a very good book. 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout. The blurb on the cover describes it as a novel, but it is really a series of short pieces all set in the same small American town and all featuring the character Olive Kitteridge, sometimes as the protagonist and sometimes as a minor character in the story. The writing is very accomplished, understated, but crisp and clear. The characters, especially Olive herself, come alive. Without ever descending into sentimentality, the author lays skillfully before us the intimate details of their lives, so that we can feel their joys, their sorrows and their pain. Although, having lived in a small town most of my life, much of what the writer tells us is familiar, I was also struck by the differences. Americans may speak the same language, but their surroundings and experiences are not the same. The central characters all appeared to me to be very self-centered and introspective, but perhaps that was only because their particular attitudes and the concerns that were most important in their lives were not the same as mine would have been. The little town in Maine in which the stories are set, is not at all like a town in this country, however well the author makes us think we know it. If I were to go to a town like that in America I know I would find it strange and exotic. I would be a foreigner, not knowing what I ought to do or what would be expected of me. . In the same way, when I took an on-line course in American Modern poetry, I came up against these differences. I was often made aware of my foreignness. There was so much taken granted in the way of background knowledge and common experience. Things that would have been familiar to any American student were new and strange to me. This added immensely to the interest of the course,but also caused difficulties sometimes. I was not surprised to find after looking up the marks I had been assigned, that I had failed'Mod-Po' (as the course was called). I thoroughly enjoyed studying the poems and doing the assignments and did contemplate trying again, but on the whole decided against repeating the course. But having been given a taste of American poetry I shall now definitely be reading more of it.

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