Abide with Me: A Novel Hardcover – Large Print, Mar 14 2006
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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 an alternate Hardcover edition.
Strout's quiet, graceful second novel is much like its hero, minister Tyler Caskey: earnest, introspective, and prone to occasional outbursts of deeply felt emotion. Set in the small town of West Annett, Maine, in the 1950s, the novel focuses on the two years after the death of Tyler's vibrant, charismatic wife, Lauren. Although Tyler has always been well liked in West Annett, Lauren never fit in with the wives in the village, who were put off by her stylish clothing and aloof nature. Now their young daughter Katherine is finding herself equally ostracized, and Tyler is offended and disturbed when Katherine's teacher suggests the girl might need to talk with the school counselor. Distressed, Tyler turns to his only ally, his unobtrusive but observant housekeeper, Connie Hatch. But Connie has secrets of her own, and when word gets out that the police want her for questioning about a series of thefts, she disappears. Readers who enjoyed Strout's first book, Amy and Isabelle (1999), will find much to move them in this tale of a man trying to get past his grief amid a town full of colorful people with their own secrets and heartaches. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The year is 1959 and this small New England town is like many others. It is a place where some secrets are kept and others are whispered. A pillar of the community is Tyler Caskey, a minister with a loyal following, who strives to serve his congregants well.
When is wife dies quite suddenly Tyler is left with two young girls, Jeannie, the baby of the family goes to live with her grandmother and Katharine who at the age of five shows various signs of an emotional disturbance stays in West Annett with her father.
Tyler has his hands full, trying to remain steadfast despite his heartrending loss and care for Katharine. When her teacher makes an appointment with him to discuss the child's problems she misreads Tyler, finding him to be imperious rather than concerned. She spreads her opinion of him throughout the town.
There is but one friend for Tyler and that is Connie his housekeeper. She is someone in whom he can confide. When he attempts to bring Jeannie home to be cared for by Connie, his mother strenuously objects. In addition, Tyler's very world seems to be crumbling about him as his beliefs are shaken.
One again Elizabeth Strout has crafted a story of timeless appeal with life, God, honor, and respect as the foundation for her narrative.
Actress Gerrianne Raphael is a versatile performer with theatre credits ranging from Man of a Mancha to Li'l Abner to Candide with the Philadelphia Opera. Her reading brings tears to the eyes and joy to the heart as listeners are carried to a more than satisfying denouement.
- Gail Cooke
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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!)
One of Strout's strengths is her attention to detail. She describes West Annett so vividly that the reader has a perfect mental picture of this place and its inhabitants. Strout depicts the bored housewives who have little to occupy their minds other than shopping, cooking, cleaning, charity work, and gossip. Tyler's job is a difficult one. He has to advise his congregants when they are in trouble, keep the church going on the limited funds that are available, and withstand the barbs of certain outspoken individuals who have their own agendas.
The author's portrait of Tyler is magnificent. He is a gentle and highly intelligent man, whose idol is the great Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, who was born in 1906, defied the Nazis and gave up his life for his beliefs. Tyler constantly quotes Bonhoeffer and thinks about his teachings, especially the statement that "man's sin was flight from responsibility." Tyler wants to take responsibility for his parish and for his family, but he lacks the joy and enthusiasm that used to propel him.
"Abide with Me" is eloquent, literate, and filled with gorgeous imagery. It has the ring of truth. We are all imperfect human beings struggling to live with our frailties, to give and receive love, and to meet life's hardships and obstacles with as much grace as we can muster. However, at times, we fail and what should we do when we disappoint ourselves and others disappoint us? How can we go on when our religious faith falters? Strout provides no easy answers, but she makes the reader empathize with her flawed characters, and we inevitably see ourselves in them. Although the book takes place in the late fifties, when women were repressed, racism was rampant, and the various social classes were strictly stratified, there is a universality in this work that still makes it worth reading today.
Although his parishioners look up to him and constantly seek his counsel, Tyler himself has no true friends --- certainly no one with whom to share his daughter's difficulties. When Mary Ingersoll, Katherine's teacher, calls him in to divulge Katherine's problems, Tyler is befuddled. Mary mistakes his confusion for antagonism, and she is quick to confide in other women in town.
Tyler's congregation keeps secrets: a hotel tryst for one member, suspicion of burglary for another, while a third member confides that her husband hits her. Many of the secrets in West Annett are entrusted to Tyler, who earnestly tries to help his flock while protecting their confidences. Tyler himself has secrets, including the beginning of a warm connection between himself and his married housekeeper, Connie Hatch, which has the potential for an eventual genuine friendship. Speaking with Connie becomes more and more a focal point for Tyler to anticipate with pleasure during the course of the day.
Meanwhile, the townswomen gossip about the wild behavior of little Katherine Caskey and the rude behavior of her father during the teacher/parent conference with Mary Ingersoll. Subtly the animosity between Tyler and Mary escalates even as feelings of attraction strengthen between Tyler and Connie.
Tyler's relationship with his stern mother becomes more difficult when he makes plans to bring his baby home to live with him. The two young daughters will be cared for during the day by Connie. Tyler's mother objects, complaining that Connie is uneducated and strange and would be an inappropriate caretaker. She sets Tyler up with a woman she considers a suitable replacement for his wife as simultaneously bizarre circumstances snatch Connie out of reach.
Tyler's life is not what he expected nor could he ever have predicted he'd harbor the kind of dark secret he lives with, as his life crumbles apart around him. Despite his faith, his existence more and more resembles the ramshackle parsonage he lives in --- painted pink inside yet in dire disrepair.
Elizabeth Strout is brilliant at characterization; she strikes no false notes. Tyler Caskey is a richly tormented, many layered, and sympathetic main character. In fact, there is not one shallow stereotype in the entire cast. Her descriptive powers pack a potent wallop. The plot is leisurely, and properly so: a breathlessly fast-paced plot would do a disservice to the subtle personality studies and transformations in ABIDE WITH ME. The story's conclusion is both completely unexpected and utterly satisfying. I highly recommend this powerful, lyrical novel of sorrow, faith and redemption.
--- Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (email@example.com)
I couldn't put this book down. This is a writer with a sure grasp of the relationships between men and women, our foolish and guileless hopes and disappointments, how the landscape of our lives is reflected by everything around us. Every word in this book is true, even though it is fiction.
The ending of the book doesn't disappoint, either. Truly a marvelous work that will live in my mind for quite awhile.
I think it deserves 6 stars.