A beautifully-written novel structured as a story cycle about characters in a small Maine town, some focusing on Olive, the titular character, a retired schoolteacher, and others only touching on her, and yet Olive is a heavy presence throughout, difficult, complicated and unforgettable. She’s flawed, but has a ruthless honesty which makes her compelling. For writers: Although this story lacks a conventional plot, the constant tension within and between the characters keeps us turning the page. Whenever Olive is present, we’re never sure just how far she might go. This novel’s undeniable excellence, and its commercial success, provide an argument for the centrality of character and a fine demonstration of how the very specific can resonate on a universal level.