It's 1959 in rural Maine. Reverend Tyler Caskey can't shake the shroud of grief that envelops him after his young wife's death, and his neglected little daughter is becoming the town's least favorite child. Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, the minister and his daughter are drowning and the townspeople, once adoring parishioners, begin to take a sort of glee in bringing about their downfall.
Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, is an absolute pleasure to read. I picked Abide with Me up at the library just as soon as I'd finished Olive Kitteridge, and I'll be heading back out to get Amy and Isabelle as soon as possible. She's that good.
Like Olive Kitteridge, Abide with Me is full of fascinating characters. Strout is one of those authors that has an uncanny knack of stripping away the excess and slapping the reader in the face with a dose of familiarity. Anyone who has ever gloated for even a second over someone's failure will feel a pang of shame when Strout describes the guilt of the townspeople after they've nearly gossiped their minister to death.
I was also terribly impressed with Strout's ability to get inside the head of Caskey as a minister. Caskey is always comparing himself with the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I found fascinating. Years (decades?) ago I saw the play The Beams are Creaking, about Bonhoeffer's life, so I found Strout's weaving of Bonhoeffer's theology with Caskey's thoughts pretty amazing. (That makes Abide with Me sounds like a heavy, theological novel, and it's not. I just found that part interesting on a personal level.)
I definitely enjoyed this one as much as Olive Kitteridge, although I think Olive Kitteridge is more memorable for me. Highly recommended.
Other Reviews of Abide with Me
Home Girl's Book Blog: "The story Strout tells is sensitive and unflinchingly true. The writing is (as always) careful, lyrical, and evocative."
World's Strongest Librarian: "Abide With Me is a melancholy book, shot through with moments of brilliant joy and truth."
Semicolon: "Ms. Strout apparently knows something about small town life and about being a pastor or a pastor’s wife, even though the blurb says she lives in New York City."
Mommy Brain: "The members of Tyler’s church are such a varied bunch, and in Tyler’s hour of need, they demonstrate some of the worst of human nature. But they also demonstrate some of the best."