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Abide with Me: A Novel Paperback – March 13, 2007 by Elizabeth Strout (Author)

Elizabeth Strout is my new favorite author. I just discovered her this year when I read the outstanding short story collection, "Olive Kitteridge. " This book is powerful. And sad. Very, very sad. Why? It’s the story of human nature, profound grief and how we treat one another. Although it is uplifting in the end, the reader is kept from falling into despair by Strout’s spellbinding writing style. This is the sad story of a newly-ordained minister who comes to a small town in Maine with his bride. The order of time in which the story is told bounces around from the present to the past and back again, but this storytelling sequence is brilliant and makes the tale even more riveting. More than book thick with plot, this is a character study. It is a tale of human nature–especially the taciturn New Englander–as well as God, community and, most of all, understanding one another and in so doing learning how to love. Highly recommended. Check it out!

From Publishers Weekly Strout’s satisfying follow-up to her 1999 debut, Amy and Isabel, 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. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Abide with Me: A Novel Paperback – March 13, 2007 by Elizabeth Strout (Author) Review

Tyler Caskey is a widower pastor in Maine. He has two children and his wife died sometime after he took his position at the church. Like the other Elizabeth Strout novels I’ve read (Amy & Isabelle; The Burgess Boys) we read about a life changing event. Like The Burgess Boys we are viewing the lives after that event. Tyler is obviously having difficulty dealing with his wife’s death and his oldest daughter – an elementary school student – is obviously having problems as well. There is no way Tyler can adequately deal with his problems in this small, reserved town. “He had expected an easing of his grief after that first year, but this was not the case. When Doris Austin’s desire for a new organ became known to him – the church treasurere, the board, even a deacon had spoken to him on her behalf – it seemed like an ant in the far corner of a room that people were pointing to, while for him the room was spinning” (p277)We see that the marriage wasn’t perfect and how difficult it would be to be a pastor, or a pastor’s wife, in a small 1-church town in Maine with all its noted reserve. The town starts to pull away from him based on gossip and innuendo until everything comes to a head one Sunday. Strout has some fantastic insights into life and she is just fantastic when describing nature, light and shadow. “It was still October when the first snow fell. It came in the afternoon, light as white dandelion thistles being dropped from high in the sky. They took their time reaching ground, so light and sparse they floated. But there was a quiet steadiness to the snow, and by late afternoon, a soft covering lay over places where the ground swelled. ” (p 177) “The world, with its pale noonday light washing down through the mostly bare trees, seemed filled with invisible currents – strips of knowledge he seemed unable to get hold of. ” (p 211)”The HBO series “Olive Kitteridge” is taken from her novel of that same name. I haven’t seen the series or read the book but I think Tyler’s mother is the same type of person. Come the end of the day, I don’t find this novel nearly as strong and compelling as the other two I’ve read. The plot ties up just a little too easily. -Read Reviews-

I really loved ABIDE WITH ME by Elizabeth Strout. I love the title, too, because “Abide With Me” is one of my favorite hymns, and it ran through my head all the way through this book. In 1959, in West Annett, Maine, a pastor named Reverend Tyler Caskey meets us head on with his life and the life of his congregation resting on faith in God, prayer, love for God, kindness for each other and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Tyler Caskey sees God everywhere. He sees Him in trees, flowers, his family’s faces. When the Caskeys first move to West Annett, a member of the church invites them for a potluck supper and all in the congregation are asked to attend. This is the first time they meet Mrs. Caskey, and the people are a bit put off by Lauren Caskey, the minister’s wife, because she comes from a rich family and wears fashionable clothes, paints her nails, wears heels and also isn’t all that interested in discussing just housekeeping and children. The community decides they don’t like Lauren Caskey. Too hoity toity. The Caskeys have two little girls, Jeannie, the baby, and Margaret, the 5-year-old. Before very long, there is a tragedy that strikes, leaving little Margaret unable to speak, except in short sentences which frustrates everyone at school. Not a lot of people like little Margaret. Tyler tries to hold everyone together, but with little money and living in an old rundown farmhouse, it is a struggle. Margaret’s teacher and a school psychologist try to find out what’s wrong with her, but it only angers her father who is trying to do the right thing for his daughter. His housekeeper is a source of comfort to all of them, but she has a secret which eventually catches up to her and she must leave the Caskey household. Tyler is slowly losing his grip, losing his faith and losing his way until the day comes when he must look inside himself for his own strength and the ability to carry on while still believing that he can rely on God as well, and pull everyone’s secrets out in the air so that they are not mired down with guilt and fear. Everyone’s secrets, that is, except his own. He has to learn to rise above the criticism and rumors that people have started for the lack of anything else worthwhile to talk about in such a small place as West Annett. ABIDE WITH ME is a very touching book and is beautifully written. I enjoyed it so much and I recommend it to readers of literary fiction. I found that I had to take my time in reading this book. It isn’t one to fly through like a short mystery, but takes time and thought.

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