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I’ve officially come to the conclusion that Strout doesn’t have any likeable characters. Olive is obnoxious, blunt, and selfish. Henry, though by no choice of his own, abandons Olive. Christopher’s actions don’t make sense, and he doesn’t seem happy, and perhaps this is because the story is through Olive’s perspective and not his, but he also seems to have disowned his mother. (Olive: “All your life I have loved you.” Christopher: “Okay. Now I don’t have anything left to say.” [page 232]) The other characters who have made guest appearances — neighbors, nurses, Christopher’s wives — aren’t likeable either. They’ve got just as many terrible characteristics as Olive does.

So, why? Is it simply because every person has less than ideal qualities and characteristics? (I’d really like an answer to this question. I don’t know it, or at least, I don’t think I know it.) I’m human. You’re human. We are all human with imperfections. But there’s more to that. Characters who are perfect are boring. Characters who get along great with their kids and never get left by anyone are boring. Characters who don’t say the wrong thing sometimes are boring. People like that don’t exist, and characters like that shouldn’t. They’re flat, one dimensional, incomplete. Strout creates some characters who are full of quirks.

And as for liking them or not, I think that depends on the person. I think these characters are sort of like people. Sometimes there are people you can live with; sometimes there are characters you’d rather live without. For some people, Olive’s cranky self-centered attitude is enough to turn them off of her character, and for others it’s saddening because she only wants to be loved by the people she loves most dearly. Maybe it’s both at the same time for some people because Olive is so deeply complex and complicated.

As for the other more minor characters, someone has to instigate some drama. It might even help us like Olive more to have a shared hatred of another character.

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