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Abide with Me: A Novel Paperback – March 13, 2007
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The Amazon Book Review
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“Strout’s greatly anticipated second novel . . . is an answered prayer.”—Vanity Fair
“Superb . . . a shimmering tale of loss, faith, and human fallibility . . . You feel yourself in the hands of a master storyteller.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Deeply moving . . . In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combinations of hope and sorrow. She sees all these wounded people with heartbreaking clarity, but she has managed to write a story that cradles them in understanding and that, somehow, seems like a foretaste of salvation.”—The Washington Post
“This 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.”—The Atlantic Monthly
“Graceful and moving . . . The pacing of Strout’s deeply felt fiction about the distance between parents and children gives her work an addictive quality.”—People (four stars)
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
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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.
The sermons he at first loved to write and deliver from memory become an impossible chore. The once friendly congregation, comprising most of West Annett’s residents, becomes hostile. He and his family are fodder for gossip. His spirit is crumbling. Most distressing of all, Tyler Caskey questions his belief in the God he once unconditionally loved.
Constantly running through Tyler Caskey’s mind are the words of Friedrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, who died at the hand of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer, by all accounts, epitomized courage and Christian love. He left America, returned to Germany in the midst of Hitler’s reign of terror, was arrested and executed. His executioner reportedly said that Bonhoeffer was at peace, praying until his last breath. Tyler Caskey tries his best to emulate Bonhoeffer’s courage during his darkest hours and is frustrated by his inability to experience The Feeling, as he calls the almost visceral evidence of God.
Also running through the book are words to the popular hymn, “Abide with Me”, Tyler Caskey’s leitmotif. “The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide; When other helpers fail and comforts flee; Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”, are words every Christian has repeated countless times without understanding them.
Elizabeth Strout tells Tyler Caskey’s multilayered story with her usual exquisite writing. She often uses nature as metaphor as she sets each scene. Her descriptions of the sky, clouds and trees are as vivid as paintings and as beautiful as poetry. This was my third reading of ABIDE WITH ME, and the story gets only more powerful.
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.