Abide with Me
  • Abide with Me
  • Abide with Me

Abide with Me

3.4 34
by Elizabeth Strout

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"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…  See more details below


"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.

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
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. 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
The New Yorker
The handsome minister Tyler Caskey, of West Annett, Maine, is beloved by his parishioners because he really does think they’re all God’s children. But in the bleak autumn of 1959, more than a year after the death of his wife, Tyler is still awash in grief. The man who once held them rapt from the pulpit now appears ridiculous up there—“like a big tractor being driven by a teenage kid, slipping in and out of gear”—and his daughter has started screaming and spitting in kindergarten. How can he lead them if he himself is lost? Just as she did in her first novel, “Amy and Isabelle,” Strout has created an absorbing world peopled by characters who argue the merits of canned cranberry sauce and using one’s turn signal; meanwhile, dark fears about Freud and Khrushchev run beneath the surface of their lives like water under ice. With superlative skill, Strout challenges us to examine what makes a good story—and what makes a good life.
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. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 17). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After the multi-award-winning Amy and Isabelle, Strout finally returns with the story of a preacher torn asunder by his daring young wife's death. The parishioners who should be helping him are instead cold as stone. With a national author tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Amy and Isabelle (1999) returns with her second novel. Strout earned critical acclaim and nominations for a few prestigious awards-including the PEN/Faulkner and the Orange Prize-with her debut tale of a New England mother and daughter. Now, she moves a few towns over to tell the tale of a Congregationalist minister who has lost his wife and, maybe, his faith. Tyler Caskey had always believed in his calling. He truly loved preaching, and his flock loved him. All this changed when his vibrant young wife died, leaving him with two little girls and an existential crisis. As Tyler falters, the affection and admiration he once inspired goes sour, and, as his congregation turns on him, Strout reveals the many dark and unhappy secrets of West Annett in the 1950s. Most of the characters in this novel are fundamentally bewildered, and many of them are quite bitter as well. The narrator's folksy tone does nothing to enliven this dispiriting story; the overall effect is rather like listening to a slightly cantankerous maiden aunt dispensing local gossip. The only truly bright spot in this novel is Tyler's five-year-old daughter, whom Strout depicts as an imaginative and sensitive child. The reader might well long for more of her, and will undoubtedly wish that her self-absorbed father hadn't condemned her to a year of despair and neglect. When Tyler finally breaks down-he staggers from his pulpit, unable to face either the people in the pews or his own doubt and confusion-his stumble turns out to be a spiritual awakening for him and his congregation, but the redemptive ending doesn't quite make up for the gloom and spitefulness of the preceding pages. A melancholy tale of faith lostand found and an unhappy look at small-town life.
From the Publisher
“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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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.06(d)

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Abide with Me

By Elizabeth Strout

Random House

Elizabeth Strout
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400062071

Chapter One

Chapter 1


Oh, it would be years ago now, but at one time a minister lived with his small daughter in a town up north near the Sabbanock River, up where the river is narrow and the winters used to be especially long. The minister's name was Tyler Caskey, and for quite some while his story was told in towns up and down the river, and as far over as the coast, until it emerged with enough variations so as to lose its original punch, and just the passing of time, of course, will affect the vigor of these things. But there are a few people still living in the town of West Annett who are said to remember quite clearly the events that took place during the wintry, final months of 1959. And if you inquire with enough patience and restraint of curiosity, you can probably get them to tell you what it is they claim to know, although its accuracy might be something you'd have to sort out on your own.

We do know the Reverend Tyler Caskey had two daughters at the time, but the littler one, really just a toddler then, lived with Tyler's mother a few hours away, farther down the river in a town called Shirley Falls, where the river got wide and the roadways and buildings more frequent and substantial, things taking on a more serious tone than what you might find up near the town of West Annett. Up there, you could drive for miles--and still can--on twisting back roads, not passing by anything more than the occasional farmhouse, acres of fields and woods all around. In one of these farmhouses, the minister and his little girl Katherine lived.

The place was at least a hundred years old, built and farmed for decades by the family of Joshua Locke. But by the end of the Depression, when the farmers had no money to pay for hired hands, the farm had fallen into disrepair. Their blacksmith business, started before the First World War, also dwindled away to nothing. Eventually the house was occupied, and remained so for years, by the sole inheritor, Carl Locke, a man who seldom came into town, and who, when called upon to pull open his door, did so holding a rifle. But in the end he had left the entire place--house, barn, and a few acres of fields--to the Congregational church, even though no one seemed to remember him being inside the church more than twice in his life.

At any rate, West Annett, even containing as it did the three white buildings of Annett Academy, was a fairly small town; its church coffers were small as well. When Reverend Smith, the minister who had been there for years and years, finally got around to retiring, hauling his deaf wife with him off to South Carolina, where apparently some nephew waited to look after their needs, the church board waved them good-bye with a tepid farewell, then turned around enthusiastically and made a very nice real estate deal. The parsonage on Main Street was sold to the local dentist, and the new minister would be housed at the Locke place, out there on Stepping Stone Road.

The Pulpit Committee had made their recommendation of Tyler Caskey with this in mind, counting on his youth, his big-boned, agreeable nature, and the discomfort he had shown right away in discussing matters of money, to prevent him from complaining about being housed in a field two miles from town; and on all these points they were right. The minister, in the six years he had lived there now, had never once complained, and except for permission to paint the living room and dining room pink, had never asked the church for anything.

Which is partly why the house remained a bit ramshackle, inside and out. It had a broken porch railing and tilting front steps. But it offered those pleasing lines you find in old houses sometimes; a tall two-story, with generous windows and a nice slope to the roof. And if you studied the place for a moment--the southern exposure it got on the side, the way the mudroom faced north--you realized the people who built it years before had possessed a fine sense of what they were doing; there was a symmetry here that was unadorned, kind to the eye.

So begin with a day in early October, when it's easy to think of the sun shining hard, the fields surrounding the minister's house brown and gold, the trees on the hills sparkling a yellowy-red. There was--there always is--plenty to worry about. The Russians had sent up their Sputnik satellites two years before--one whirling around right now with that poor dead dog inside--and were said to be spying on us from outer space, as well as right here in our own country. Nikita Khrushchev, squatty and remarkably unattractive, had even arrived a couple of weeks before for a visit to America, whether people liked it or not--and many did not; they were afraid he'd be killed before getting home, and then what horrors might ensue! Experts, whoever they were, and however they did it, had determined that a guided missile from Moscow to New York would fall within 7.3 miles of its target, and while it was a comfort to live outside this radius, there were three families in West Annett who had bomb shelters in their backyards anyway, because after all, you never knew.

Still: This happened to be the first year in many where countrywide church membership had not increased at a greater rate than the general population, and that, if you thought about it, had to mean something. Possibly it meant people were not panicking. Possibly it meant people wanted to believe, and were apparently believing--particularly here in the northern reaches of New England, where the same people had lived for years, not many communists among them (although there were a few)--that after half a century of colossal human horror, the world really could perhaps be finally decent, and safe, and good.

And today--the one we've chosen to start with--was lovely in its sunny brightness, the tops of those distant trees a brave and brilliant yellowy-red. Even keeping in mind how this kind of autumn day can be an awful thing, harsh and sharp as broken glass, the sky so blue it could break down the middle, the day was perfectly beautiful, too. The kind of day where you could easily imagine the tall minister out for a walk, thinking, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. It had, in fact, been Reverend Caskey's habit that fall to take a morning walk down Stepping Stone Road, then turn back up around Ringrose Pond, and there were some mornings when he continued on into town, headed to his study in the basement of the church, waving to people along the way who tapped their horns, or stopping to talk to a car that pulled over, leaning his large body down to peer into the window, smiling, nodding, his hand lingering on the car door until the window was rolled up, a wave good-bye.

But not this morning.

This morning the man was sitting in his study at home, tapping a pen against the top of his desk. Right after breakfast, he had received a telephone call from his daughter's school. His daughter's teacher was a young woman named Mrs. Ingersoll, and she had asked the minister in a remarkably clear voice--though it was somewhat too high-pitched for his taste--if he would come to school in the late afternoon to discuss Katherine's behavior.

"Is there a problem?" the minister had said. And during the pause that followed, he said, "I'll come in, of course," standing up, holding the black telephone while he looked around the room as though something had been misplaced. "Thank you for calling," he added. "If there's any kind of problem, of course I want to know."

A small, stinging pain below his collarbone arrived, and, placing his hand over it, the man had the odd momentary sense of someone about to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Then for some minutes he walked back and forth in front of his desk, his fingers tapping his mouth. Nobody, of course, wants to start a morning this way, but it was especially true for Reverend Caskey, who had suffered his share of recent sorrows, and while people were aware of this, the man was really far more worn down than anyone knew.

the minister's study in the old farmhouse had been for many years the bedroom of Carl Locke. It was a large room on the first floor, with a view of what must have been, at one time, a very nice side garden. An old birdbath still stood in the center of a circular design of now mostly broken bricks, and vines grew over a tilting trellis, beyond which could be seen part of a meadow and an old stone wall that wobbled its way out of sight.

While Tyler Caskey had heard stories of the cantankerous and, some said, filthy old man who had lived here before him, while his wife had even complained for months when they first moved in that she could, in this room on a warm day, detect the smell of urine, the truth is that Tyler liked the room very much. He liked the view; he'd even come to feel some affinity to the old man himself. And now Tyler thought he wouldn't go for his morning walk; he'd sit right here where another fellow had struggled apparently with righteousness, and probably loneliness, too.

There was a sermon to prepare. There always was; and the one for this Sunday the minister was going to call "On the Perils of Personal Vanity." A tricky topic, requiring discretion--what specifics would he use?--particularly as he was hoping with its teaching to head off a crisis that loomed on the ecclesiastical horizon here in West Annett regarding the purchase of a new organ. You can be sure that in a small town where there is only one church, the decision as to whether or not that church needs a new organ can take on some significance; the organist, Doris Austin, was ready to view any opposition to the purchase as an assault upon her character--a stance irritating to those who had a natural hesitancy toward any change. So with not much else to occupy itself at the time, the town was on the verge of being occupied by this. Reverend Caskey was opposed to the organ, but said nothing publicly, only tried through his preaching to make people think.

Last week had been World Communion Sunday, and the minister had emphasized this point to his congregation right before the special offering. They were Christians in communion with the world. As was tradition, on the Friday before World Communion Sunday, a noontime service of the Ladies' Aid Benevolent Society had been held, and that's when the minister had been hoping to speak on the Perils of Personal Vanity, guiding this group of women--responsible for raising much of the church's money--away from any frivolous expenditures. (Jane Watson wanted a new set of linen tablecloths for coffee hour.) But he'd not been able to gather his thoughts, and for Tyler, who used to like to picture himself, metaphorically speaking, as taking his listeners gently by the scruff of their white New England necks--Listen while I tell you--his Friday performance had been disappointing; he'd provided only general words of praise, for hard work, money raised.

Ora Kendall, whose droll voice always struck Tyler as being at odds with her small face and wild black hair, had called an hour after the service to give him a report, as she was apt to do. "Two things, Tyler. Alison doesn't like you quoting Catholic saints."

"Well," Tyler said easily, "I guess I won't worry about that."

"Second thing," said Ora. "Doris wants that new organ even more than she wants to divorce Charlie and marry you."

"The organ business, Ora--that's the board's decision."

Ora made a ruminative sound. "Don't be a nitwit, Tyler. If you showed any enthusiasm for it, the board would say yes in a second. She thinks you ought to do that because she's special."

"Everyone is special."

"Yuh. That's why you're a minister and I'm not."

This morning Tyler Caskey was trying again to compose some lines about vanity. He had jotted down notes from 12 Ecclesiastes on the apparent meaninglessness of life when viewed from the human perspective "under the sun." "Under the sun, all is vanity and vexation of spirit," he had written. He tapped the pen, and did not write down the business of viewing from "above the sun," which would show life to be a gift from the hand of God. No, he just sat, staring out the window of the room.

His eyes, wide and gazing, did not take in the birdbath, or the stone wall, or anything at all; he was just staring into space with his blue eyes. Little wispy thises and thats were floating by the edge of his memory--the poster that had hung in his childhood bedroom with the words a good boy never talks back, picnic tables in the Applebys' field, where the bean-hole suppers used to be held, the maroon drapes in the living room of the house where his mother still lived, now with the baby, Jeannie--and here his mind hovered: the proprietary nature of his mother's large hands as she guided the child's little shoulders through the living room.

The minister looked down at the pen he was holding. "The best in a difficult situation" is how he had phrased it at first, but it

didn't have to be phrased anymore. Everyone knew where the baby was, and no one, to his knowledge, frowned on the arrangement. And in fact, no one really did. Fathers were not, at that time, expected to raise small babies alone, particularly where there was so little money, and while the Ladies' Aid had supplied him with the light housekeeping duties of Mrs. Connie Hatch (she was paid pennies), his congregation understood the baby was better off for the time being with her Grandmother Caskey--who had never, by the way, offered to take in little Katherine, too.

No, Katherine was his.

Cross to bear--words that shot through his mind now, and made him grimace, for she was not his cross to bear. She was his gift from God.

He sat up straight and tried to picture himself talking with the young teacher, how he would listen earnestly, hands clasping his knees. But his cuffs were frayed.


Excerpted from Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Abide with Me 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had tears streaming down my cheeks by the end. I didn't find it slow-paced at all. I thought her characterizations were wonderful. I had wonderful visual images of everyone. It's ultimately very uplifting in its message of love and acceptance. My favorite line in the book is when Tyler responds to Connie's remark about coming from a family of sinners: 'Oh, Connie - we all do.' It has some similarities to Amy and Isabelle. I love how she shows that everyone is imperfect, everyone is a sinner, yet we're all capable and deserving of both kindness and forgiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Strout is an author that has written only three books and I can't wait until she writes her fourth. "Abide with Me" is full of characters that exhibit human qualities that are both good and bad. I loved every page and was sad to see it end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just love the way Elizabeth Strout writes. The way she constructs sentences, the way she describes things, it's all just beautiful. I loved Amy & Isabelle and was the slightest bit hesitant to read Abide with Me b/c I am Jewish and feared I wouldn't be able to relate to it, but I'm so glad I did decide to read it. I didn't want it to end I wanted to read on and on about these people and what happened to their lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began to read this book reluctantly, fearing it would be too 'religious' and the characters not at all realistic. I was so wrong! Almost immediately I was drawn into the book by Strout's compellingly graceful style. Then I became enthralled with each of the characters, who were so fully developed and engaging. Tyler struggled with human flaws as a 'man of the cloth' and Lauren was decidedly not a stereotypical minister's wife. They and all the other characters seemed totally human and real. This book is among the very best I've ever read, and I now look forward to reading her first novel, Amy and Isabelle.
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theshippingnews More than 1 year ago
I liked this book, though I found myself feeling frustrated with Tyler throughout the entire thing. I kept thinking that I should have been feeling more sympathetic towards him than I actually did. I suppose it was difficult to accept how disconnected he seemed from his daughter, especially since she needed him so much. I think the most distracting thing, though, was the way his wife's character seemed to change as the novel progressed, and not in a good way. She first came across as strong-willed and interesting. Later, she seemed to be nothing more than a shallow spendthrift and petty thief. It was odd. Still worth reading, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite novels, Abide With Me has characters I still think about. More important, it asks questions about faith, religion, community and more and comes up with original answers that transcend cliche. Corny as it sounds, Abide with Me lifts the reader in the same way the hymn of the title might.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago