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Abide with Me: A Novel Paperback – March 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The year is 1959. Tyler Caskey, a minister in West Annett, Maine has recently lost his wife to cancer. He's trying to get past his grief, dress and feed his two little girls, and tend to the needs of his congregation, but his efforts are getting as ragged as the cuffs of his dress shirts. The book starts slowly, and it's hard at first to tell one taciturn member of Tyler's congregation from another. About a third of the way in, a few faces start to separate out from the crowd: the church deacon Charlie Austin, who hates his day-to-day life and escapes it by visiting a naughty lady down in Boston; Tyler's housekeeper Connie Hatch, who has a secret that's growing in her like a tumor; Rhonda Skillings, a school guidance counselor besotted with Freud's swirling sexual underworld.
Tyler keeps turning over memories of his wife Lauren. She taught him about love, but this girl from a well-to-do Boston family wasn't really cut out to be a small-town minister's wife. The congregation, smitten with Tyler, never warmed up to Lauren. As Tyler feels his faith slipping away, his zeal for his calling starts to diminish. The congregation senses his withdrawal, and resents it. His daughter Katherine is acting out all over, and Tyler's not prepared to deal with it. Connie Hatch finally reveals her secret, which precipitates several kinds of crisis. Tyler and his congregation have to decide if they can continue forward together.
This is a book that's easy to respect: the folks of West Annett are finely rendered, their plights feel real, and the resolution is unexpected and satisfying. But it's hard to warm up to these characters. The concerns of the congregation seem selfish and small-minded. For instance, it's not clear why so many congregants, including her kindergarten teacher and Sunday school teacher, have so little compassion for Tyler's daughter Katherine, a five year old who just lost her mother. Tyler's own mother comes across as a cold-blooded bitch. Tyler himself lacks that core of will you'd expect in a charismatic minister. Admittedly we're seeing him during a bad time, but he's so passive that the reader, like his congregation, may start to lose patience with him.
Pleasure comes from the superbly detailed setting, from the nuances of Tyler's thought as he explores the waxing and waning of his faith, and from the assurance with which the author gathers up the disparate plot strands and brings them together at the end of the book. Strout's characters may not be visited by grace, but they certainly earn their hard-won conclusions. They are moved by what happens in their small town, and you will be too.
We already know from the editorial reviews that this novel is heading towards some sort of a surprise near the end, but in getting there Ms Strout's prose makes us want this journey to continue much longer! Considering the prosaic subject matter, the life of small town preacher Tyler Caskey, and his family, friends, parishioners, and gossipy townsfolk, she conjures up one heck of a fictional ride. Tyler, whose center of gravity balances between God's word and layman philosophers. Ms Strout effectively draws us in and keeps us beguiled with her rich cast of characters, her 'attention to detail' (Connie's hair, for instance; the minister's old shirt; or the effects of fall weather) and her elegant, stark prose, peppered with down-home phrases like "skitter-skatter". By the time Connie Hatch steps into the forefront, this novel is riveting in it's intensity and beauty. The church congregation scene is flat out wonderful writing, as are the final scenes between Tyler and George.
I guessed at a different ending, but Ms Strout is firmly in control and takes us where her compass wants us to be and it's a wonderful ending. This is a great fictional study in small town complexities and humanity. And she leaves us wanting more! Highly Recommended. Five Wonderful Stars!!
(Note: I found the Fournier typeface to be very elegant and readable. This review is based on an unabridged digital download, which makes digital disc a great new home storage alternative for novels. Thank you, Random House!)