Synopses & Reviews
In her luminous and long-awaited new novel, bestselling author Elizabeth Strout welcomes readers back to the archetypal, lovely landscape of northern New England, where the events of her first novel, Amy and Isabelle
, unfolded. In the late 1950s, in the small town of West Annett, Maine, a minister struggles to regain his calling, his family, and his happiness in the wake of profound loss. At the same time, the community he has served so charismatically must come to terms with its own strengths and failings faith and hypocrisy, loyalty and abandonment when a dark secret is revealed.
Tyler Caskey has come to love West Annett, "just up the road" from where he was born. The short, brilliant summers and the sharp, piercing winters fill him with awe as does his congregation, full of good people who seek his guidance and listen earnestly as he preaches. But after suffering a terrible loss, Tyler finds it hard to return to himself as he once was. He hasn't had The Feeling that God is all around him, in the beauty of the world for quite some time. He struggles to find the right words in his sermons and in his conversations with those facing crises of their own, and to bring his five-year-old daughter, Katherine, out of the silence she has observed in the wake of the family's tragedy.
A congregation that had once been patient and kind during Tyler's grief now questions his leadership and propriety. In the kitchens, classrooms, offices, and stores of the village, anger and gossip have started to swirl. And in Tyler's darkest hour, a startling discovery will test his congregation's humanity and his own will to endure the kinds of trials that sooner or later test us all.
In prose incandescent and artful, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered life, love, God, and community within these pages, and all is made new by this writer's boundless compassion and graceful prose.
"Strout's satisfying follow-up to her 1999 debut, Amy and Isabelle, follows a recent widower from grief through breakdown to recovery in 1959 smalltown Maine. The father of two young girls and the newly appointed minister of the fictional town of West Annett, Tyler Caskey is quietly devastated by wife Lauren's death following a prolonged illness. Tyler's older daughter Katherine is deeply antisocial at school and at home; his adorable younger daughter Jeannie has been sent to live upstate with Tyler's overbearing mother. Talk begins to spread of Katherine's increasing unsoundness and of Tyler's possible affair with his devoted-though-suspicious housekeeper, Connie Hatch. It's spearheaded by the gossipy Ladies' Aide Society, whose members bear down on Tyler like the dark clouds of a gathering storm. Meanwhile, Tyler's grief shades into an angry, cynical depression, leaving him unable to parent his troubled daughter or minister to his congregation, and putting his job and family at risk. Strout's deadpan, melancholy prose powerfully conveys Tyler's sense of internal confinement. The uplifting ending arrives too easily, but on the whole, Strout has crafted a harrowing meditation of exile on Main Street." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] quiet, graceful second novel...earnest, introspective, and prone to occasional outbursts of deeply felt emotion....Readers who enjoyed...Amy and Isabelle will find much to move them in this tale..." Booklist
"[T]he redemptive ending doesn't quite make up for the gloom and spitefulness of the preceding pages. A melancholy tale of faith lostand found and an unhappy look at small-town life." Kirkus Reviews
"[R]adiates a humane, life-affirming warmth....Abide With Me is a book to curl up with on a bleak day, a book that isn't embarrassed to assert that 'where there are people, there is always the hope of love.'" San Francisco Chronicle
"[D]eeply moving....Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there's finally healing here...In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow." Washington Post
"Abide with Me is at times a melancholy novel whose events often leave the reader feeling bereft. But, in the end, Tyler Caskey remains true to his ideals, and this fact is deeply satisfying." Charlotte Observer
"Readers will embrace this touching novel about the nature of faith and the responsibilities of community and family." San Antonio Express-News
"[T]his lovely second novel confirms Strout as the possessor of an irresistibly companionable, peculiarly American voice: folksy, poetic, but always as precise as a shadow on a brilliant winter day....Abide with Me
...has this further resonance: it embodies humane qualities excellence and conscientious exactness that fortify us in our own version of its hero's quest." Joseph O'Neill, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
About the Author
Elizabeth Strout's first novel, Amy and Isabelle, won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award as well as the Orange Prize in England. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including the New Yorker. Currently she is on the faculty of the low-residency M.F.A. program at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. She lives in New York City.
The Reverend Tyler Caskey wants to be a good husband, a good father, and a good minister to his congregation in this small New England town. Charismatic and kind-hearted, he has been loved by many, and has successfully maneuvered his way around the difficult head deacon, Charlie Austin, a man traumatized by his war experience, and whose pain is private, but pernicious to others. Then an unexpected tragedy causes Tyler to act outside his system of belief, and he begins to lose his sense of self, as well as the good wishes of his community. His only friend becomes his quiet housekeeper, Connie Hatch.
In writing this book I was interested in the following issues:
Compassion. Is compassion a luxury? Something we are able provide only when things are going well — or well enough — in our own lives?
Our moral code and sense of self. What happens when we find ourselves acting outside our own previously devised moral code? How do we reconcile the difference between the way we assumed our life would be, and what life actually brings to us?
Criminal vs. non-criminal acts. Why has society decided that some things we might do are offenses against the state and punishable by the law, while other acts fall into that murky area of a more personal decision about what is right and what is wrong?
Religious faith. How do we maintain our religious faith when we find ourselves acting in ways that go against what we think we believe in? What is it like to be a minister whose job is to be the spiritual leader of his community when his sudden grief barely allows him to hang on?
Secrets. When does a secret begin to erode our sense of self and cause a feeling of isolation that spills pain onto others? When do we decide to keep a secret to ourselves?
Psychological theories vs. religious beliefs. How effective can we be in understanding the feelings — particularly of children — by applying a psychological interpretation to their experience? How can these theories be integrated into religious thought?
Love vs. fear. What is it that causes the power of love to emerge and become stronger than the power of fear? And how does this affect not only our personal lives, but the state of the world?
I write because people amaze me, and life awes me. I write because I hope that by telling the stories of others, and by reading the stories of others, we can possibly see the world in a larger way, and that we can enjoy a good, old-fashioned storytelling experience along the way.
From the Trade Paperback edition.