I stayed up last night to finish "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout. Being unable to sleep without devouring the rest of the book is a reliable sign that I loved said book, which I did. It's a good thing, too, because I do have the annoying habit of not always liking books that get a lot of buzz or that are recommended to me by a lot of people whose opinions I trust. (See, e.g., "The Guernsey Literary...." and "Lovely Bones")
"Olive Kitteridge" is a series of thirteen interrelated stories set in a small town in Maine. They are organized in chronological order. In all of them, Olive is a character, although she sometimes appears as the main character and at other times is more peripheral. But throughout them all, we learn about another facet of Olive's character and personality. I tend not to gravitate toward short stories, but these are so beautifully written, and they are linked so well, that this really is an example of how a book can effortlessly straddle both the novel genre and the short story genre.
At first I didn't really like Olive. In one story in particular, she exhibits a cruelty that I found baffling. But as the story wore on, and her personality become more faceted, I came to like her. Strout does a great job of showing how Olive's experiences have shaped her, and it's hard not to admire Olive's moxie, even as Strout alludes to Olive's shortcomings as a person, particularly with regard to her role as wife and mother. By the end, I was rooting for Olive, and without including any spoilers, let's just say the last chapter/story nearly brought me to tears (in a good way).