The book "Olive Kitteridge" is a collection of 13 short stories. Olive is the primary character in about half the stories and peripheral to the story in the other half, sometimes playing a major role, sometimes barely a presence at all. Each story is excellent and complete in itself, but as the stories accumulate, they gain power and in the end Olive Kitteridge packs a major wallop in its penetrating and complex portrayal of small town New England life.
Wisely, the HBO adaptation omits about a third of the book, focusing almost exclusively on Olive as she moves through the twenty five years between middle and older age. As we meet her, she radiates a sense that she and only she knows best. While she does appear to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of those she addresses, her manner is brusque and frequently offensive. In Crosby, Maine, those who know her well love and appreciate her despite her imperious ways. To strangers she may appear eccentric to the point of insanity. Although she surely loves her child, she is cold and harsh, unable to demonstrate affection. She's the same way with her husband, blaming him on some level for her infatuation with a depressed and perhaps alcoholic chain-smoker, an English teacher at the junior high where she teaches math. Life opens her eyes, and we see Olive grow, see her mind begin to open, to whittle at the certainty she once knew.
The screenplay and the knockout performances capture to a T the sense of a restrained outer appearance barely but effectively containing passions and torments raging within the hearts and souls of this isolated community. Highly recommended. I would also recommend reading the book before, after or in conjunction with viewing the miniseries. Truly a mirror of the soul.