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Abide with Me: A Novel [Paperback]

Elizabeth Strout
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 13 2007
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

In her luminous and long-awaited novel, bestselling author Elizabeth Strout welcomes readers back to the archetypal, lovely landscape of northern New England, where the events of her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, unfolded. In the late 1950s, in the small town of West Annett, Maine, a minister struggles to regain his calling, his family, and his happiness in the wake of profound loss. At the same time, the community he has served so charismatically must come to terms with its own strengths and failings—faith and hypocrisy, loyalty and abandonment—when a dark secret is revealed.

Tyler Caskey has come to love West Annett, “just up the road” from where he was born. The short, brilliant summers and the sharp, piercing winters fill him with awe—as does his congregation, full of good people who seek his guidance and listen earnestly as he preaches. But after suffering a terrible loss, Tyler finds it hard to return to himself as he once was. He hasn’t had The Feeling—that God is all around him, in the beauty of the world—for quite some time. He struggles to find the right words in his sermons and in his conversations with those facing crises of their own, and to bring his five-year-old daughter, Katherine, out of the silence she has observed in the wake of the family’s tragedy.

A congregation that had once been patient and kind during Tyler’s grief now questions his leadership and propriety. In the kitchens, classrooms, offices, and stores of the village, anger and gossip have started to swirl. And in Tyler’s darkest hour, a startling discovery will test his congregation’ s humanity—and his own will to endure the kinds of trials that sooner or later test us all.

In prose incandescent and artful, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered—life, love, God, and community—within these pages, and all is made new by this writer’s boundless compassion and graceful prose.

Praise for Abide with Me
 
“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)

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From Publishers Weekly

In Strout's graceful if languid second novel, set in the cold northern reaches of New England during the Cold War, Tyler Caskey is a young minister tending to the faith of his small, gossipy parish. He's also struggling with the aftermath of his wife's premature death, which has left him with two little girls to raise. What the plot lacks in pace and surprise, Strout makes up for with intelligent, revealing portraits of many characters, and Raphael's versatile voice makes them even more memorable. Her voice shrinks remarkably to speak the lines of Caskey's traumatized older daughter; turns gruff and unhappy for Charles Austin, a church deacon wrestling with his own secret demons; and ratchets up into startlingly cold and imperious territories for Caskey's meddling mother. Raphael deftly switches from the plummy, slightly British-accented voice she uses for most of the narration to speak in the drawn-out, nasal tones of Caskey's plainspoken, friendly housekeeper. Though the abridgment cuts out some of the background story, events are still sometimes drawn out. But fans of such closely observed period pieces will no doubt revel in Strout's evocative prose and in Raphael's richly textured interpretation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Home is Not a Safe Place May 17 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Elizabeth Strout's "Abide with Me" is both a beguiling and troubling read. It deals with the early career of an Episcopalian minister who returns to a New England town near his birthplace to launch his ministry. Everything could not be more picture perfect. The lovely state of Maine in fall with its changing autumnal colors. What an ideal spot to start on one's mission to serve God: a pretty wife, two happy children, significant roots in the area, and a congregation eager to absorb your messages of hope and cheer. A story right out of "Woman's Weekly" you might think, but after hooking her readers on the initial smoothness of the natural setting and the apparent ease of the people, Strout starts to introduce them to the real story behind the facade. Before too long we are immersed in what appears to be the life of a tightly-knit community that is unfortunately beset with a bad case of social dysfunctionality. This is not a happy place to live and work. There is a spiritual ugliness existing just below the surface of people's daily lives, and it is about to manifest itself in all its fury. Tyler Caskey, as the new minister, has come to serve the spiritual needs of a small rural congregation but what he ends up discovering is that he is not cut out for the formidable task ahead of him. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his hero, Caskey quickly learns how inadequate are his resources and training to help the people around him resolve his their own personal challenges. This book is a study in contrasts between the perfect existence we long for and the harsh reality we have to cope with in order to meet the needs of others. The strength of this novel is Strout's ability to introduce trouble into the life of her main character without making him a stoic victim of outrageous circumstances. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars AFFECTING AND COMPELLING March 29 2006
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
Elizabeth Strout won me with her debut novel, Amy and Isabelle. I found it to be both affecting and compelling, written by one who felt a deep affection for the characters she created and also possessed a sympathetic understanding of the human condition. The same might be said of Abide With Me set in West Annett, Maine.
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
Was this review helpful to you?
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now and then true! Jan. 22 2013
By olivier
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is in the image of Jesus Christ: the ecstasy of a new life (Christmas), the suffering and death, and the resurrection.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  148 reviews
101 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faith in a Cold Climate Sept. 23 2006
By G. Bestick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Novelists, like high divers, should get extra points for degree of difficulty. Elizabeth Strout set her first novel in a dying New England mill town. She took the story of a sullen teenager and her tightly-wound mother and made something special of it. She pulls off another difficult maneuver in Abide with Me, which excavates the emotional lives of a Protestant congregation in rural Maine, a place where people pride themselves on keeping emotions buttoned down and zippered up.

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.
99 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A WONDERFUL, MESMERIZING STUDY IN SMALL TOWN COMPLEXITIES March 14 2006
By RBSProds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Five Stars!! Spinning off of the theme of life in small town northern New England, Elizabeth Strout conjures up another winner of a novel detailing the inner most feellngs of the human condition and inter-personal relationships, buffeted by duty, change, and tragedy. Much like the preceding novel, "Amy and Isabelle", set in a different fictional New England town, this is MESMERIZING writing.

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!)
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AFFECTING AND COMPELLING March 29 2006
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Elizabeth Strout won me with her debut novel, Amy and Isabelle. I found it to be both affecting and compelling, written by one who felt a deep affection for the characters she created and also possessed a sympathetic understanding of the human condition. The same might be said of Abide With Me set in West Annett, Maine.

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
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We love imperfectly." Aug. 14 2006
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Elizabeth Strout's "Abide with Me" is the story of Tyler Caskey, a minister in the small town of West Annett, Maine, in 1959. Tyler had been married to Lauren, a flighty woman from a wealthy family who could not adjust to living on a tight budget and acting the part of a "minister's wife." Lauren bore Tyler two daughters before she died, leaving the widower bewildered and shaken. Tyler's overbearing mother, Margaret, takes in his toddler, Jeannie, while Tyler tries to manage with five-year-old Katherine. He depends on his devoted housekeeper, Connie, to keep things afloat. However, since Lauren's death, Katherine has been nearly mute with grief and she has begun to act out in school. Although Tyler has always been a popular minister whose congregation admires his impassioned sermons, rumors begin to spread that he is not the man they thought he was. Soon, Tyler questions his vocation, and his faith in himself and the townspeople he has served so well starts to crumble.

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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! April 8 2006
By ncgal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Describing a whole world in a few words, as someone said, and such a resonating world - this is what great literature is made of.

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.
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