Jhoanna's Reviews > Abide with Me

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
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Nov 13, 2009

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bookshelves: dysfunctional-families-are-us, suburban-distopia
Read in November, 2009

Sometimes I think books shouldn't be blurbed. It sets up an unrealistic expectation on the part of the reader, especially since this reader has already been blown away by Elizabeth Strout's previous work. Vanity Fair proclaims that Abide with Me is "an answered prayer," which immediately raised my readerly hackles. Really? Really?

I actually quite liked Abide with Me by the time I got through the end, but the first half of the book was very touch-and-go. Tyler Caskey is the reverend of the Congregational Church of West Annett, the sort of small Maine town that Strout excels in imagining, full of stoic New Englanders and their tamped-down feelings and secret passions. Caskey undergoes a crisis of spirit after his wife's death, struggling with the demands of his parish and caring for his young daughter, Katherine, who becomes a silent, brooding presence. Caskey thinks about and quotes a lot of theologians as he wrestles with his inner demons, one in particular who he seems to idolize, and it becomes a little wearying to see yet another pithy comment from his idol interrupting the page.

Thankfully, Caskey breaks through his meditative state and actually begins to interact with the other characters, ending a long cycle of inner bafflement. Strout handles the novel's resolution with grace and a quiet authority, breaking down her characters' emotional detachments and allowing them to reach (however tentatively) for each other. As in her other books, Strout really seems to understand and illuminate the walls we build around ourselves, which not only keep others at a distance, but also keep us from knowing our own true selves.
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