four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-AbideWithMeIn West Annett, Maine, in the 1950s, Congregational minister Tyler Caskey’s wife dies, and, numb with grief, Tyler finds himself alone with two young daughters. He sends his younger daughter to live with his controlling mother, while his older one, the troubled Katherine, stays with him. When she starts exhibiting problems at school, Tyler confides in his housekeeper, Connie Hatch. Rumors about their relationship circulate the small town, and Connie, who harbors secrets of her own, disappears. As Tyler withdraws further, his congregation and town start to talk—and Tyler must recover the faith he hopes will bring him solace.
Random House. 294 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400062071

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there’s finally healing here, and, as Tyler should have known, it comes not from strength and self-sufficiency but from accepting the inexplicable love of others. In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow." Ron Charles

Atlantic 4 of 5 Stars
"[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. … Tyler’s essential struggle—to retain a meaningful sense of wonder and truth when faced with the rise of therapeutic psychology and its mundane, overweening explications of the human—resembles a contemporary American cultural struggle against spiritual and intellectual debasement." Joseph O’Neill

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"I didn’t look up until I had finished the book. … I can only hope that I don’t have to wait another eight years for Strout’s next novel to appear." Ann Hood

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Strout subtly portrays the slow unraveling of Tyler in the crossed communication between the self-important young educator and the bewildered young father. … [Her] story is dark and her characters often reveal their less positive sides, but in the end, she gives us individuals whose lives are deepened and transformed in this sensitive and challenging work." Joan Hinkemeyer

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers will also undoubtedly question Tyler’s increasingly passive nature, though it is, of course, a comment on his internal fear and his own humanity. 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." Lee Rhodes

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In a languid style—sometimes kind, sometimes amusingly catty—Strout captures small-town life without sentimentality. … Unhappiness rises higher and higher, building to a confrontation between the minister and his congregation that, when it comes, brings unexpected tenderness and help in very human form." Peggy McMullen

Critical Summary

Recent novels about Christian faith (such as Marilynne Robinson’s award-winning Gilead, 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005) have found wide audiences; Abide with Me now joins this set. Author of the critically acclaimed Amy and Isabelle (1999), Strout examines one man’s spiritual agony and personal journey. In the process, she asks important questions about self-identity, faith, fear, hypocrisy, and loss. Dark and full of doubt but beautiful and full of strength and acceptance, the novel also faultlessly captures the intricacies of a small town (including its vicious gossip circles). That, combined with gorgeous depictions of the New England landscape and exquisite prose, makes Abide with Me a first-rate novel.

Also by the Author

Amy and Isabelle (1999): In the New England mill town of Shirley Falls, Isabelle is an isolated single parent, raising her daughter Amy. When Isabelle discovers that Amy is having an affair with her math teacher, Isabelle isn’t just angry—she’s jealous of Amy’s happiness and sexuality. The novel is a portrait not only of the mother/daughter relationship but of the other townspeople as well.