Abide with Me

Abide with Me

by Elizabeth Strout


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812971828
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 175,221
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.


Brooklyn, New York

Date of Birth:

January 6, 1956

Place of Birth:

Portland, Maine


B.A., Bates College, 1977; J.D., Syracuse College of Law, 1982

Read an Excerpt

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. How could he not have noticed? Examining the cuffs more closely, he realized the shirt was simply old, had reached the point where his wife would have taken it for herself, cutting the sleeves off midway and wearing it with her bright pink ballet tights that had no feet.

Reading Group Guide

1. Do you think small-town life is that different from city life?

2. What do you think the “voice” of this novel is telling you, besides what it says? That is, what kind of tone does it set–what kind of character (not the author) might be telling you this story?

3. Pick out some of the passages about nature in the first part of the book and see if you can discern the author’s implicit attitude toward the New England landscape and toward nature in general.

4. What does the state of Tyler’s house at the beginning of the book say about him and his family? Are they different by the end?

5. This book raises the question of whether a father’s parenthood is necessarily different from a mother’s–a question that concerns us to this day. What do you think about this controversial topic?

6. Why do you think Tyler’s daughter, Katherine, stops speaking after her mother’s death? When and why does she find her voice again?

7. This book is set during the height of the Cold War. Do you think the era plays an important role in the story, or is it just a backdrop?

8. What are Tyler’s strengths and what are his weaknesses? How do they affect his ability to perform his role in the community?

9. The role of the clergy in small communities during the fifties is presented vividly through the story of Tyler Caskey. Do you think the clergy’s role has changed over time in these places and in general?

10. Whether you are religious or not, how did you respond to Tyler Caskey’s intense involvement with matters of faith and belief?

11. In some ways, Abide with Me is about class distinctions, even in this egalitarian community. How conscious were you of this aspect of the book as you read it?

12. Find examples where the weather serves as a metaphorical backdrop for Tyler’s story, and explain.

13. The novel uses domestic interiors, architecture, and lighting to complement its scenes and themes. Can you give some examples of this?

Customer Reviews

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Abide with Me 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 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.
aslan7 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This was a really good book. I was thinking I wouldn't like the outcome, but did. I also thought the story was very slow, but decded the pace suited the story.
eejjennings on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Exquisite use of language
suejonesjohnson on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Poignant in places but weak overall for such a sad situation.
wvlibrarydude on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I was really pleased while reading the book. The character development was excellent, with a plot that drove the story along, and even a little literary language on settings to interweave with the story. The lack of half of a star, was due to a lingering distance or disconnect. Just couldn't fully engage with the main character, but still enjoyed. I also enjoyed the Christian themes of love, forgiveness and faith interwoven throughout the story. It is always refreshing to read a literary work that also reflects Christian issues. I'll need to read her first book to see what it was like.
stonelaura on LibraryThing 10 months ago
After the death of his free-thinking wife preacher Tyler Caskey begins to loose control of his children and his life. We hear from various memebers of the congregation, who at first adore, then revile and ulitmately accept Tyler.
alanna1122 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Hmm. This book was a mixed bag for me. I generally like the author's style and I think she is a fine writer. Despite this, the plot dragged in too many places for me to really have enjoyed the book. The frequent mention of the the protagonist's favorite philosopher brought the natural flow of the story to a halt over and over. It was really frustrating to have that and his other theological / philosophical musings occur so often throughout the book - it was a real momentum killer. I think these parts could have been interesting if written in a more lively way - but they were just obstacles in the path of plot advancement to me. Otherwise - the characters were well drawn and the story was pretty fresh.
tangledthread on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The story is about a widowed Congregationalist pastor in New England during the close of the 1950's. The characters and their relationships are well developed. The story is one of those quietly tragic stories love, loss, betrayal, and reconciliation.There are heavy Christian themes: flawed characters, enduring hardship, consequences of sin, suffering, redemption, and enduring love. And the tale does have moralistic tone, but it fits.I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
readaholic12 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Abide With Me is a lovingly written story of a man, a family and a town who have lost their way. The story unfolds quietly and slowly; resolution does not come quickly or easily, but there is much to learn about faith, patience and understanding from its reading. Elizabeth Strout is masterful in crafting place and time that feel real, and for creating characters that touch the heart with their humanity. I would have preferred the story reveal more of its secrets, and I was impatient at times for things to happen or to understand why, but at the book's end, I was very glad to have read it.
brenzi on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Strout continues her theme of lives lived by ordinary people in the rural towns of Maine in the 1950's, which she first presented in "Amy and Isabelle." Tyler Caskey is a minister in the small town of West Annette, Maine. where church is not just a Sunday occurence but completely envelops the daily lives of the residents. Strout has created the ultimate story of forgiveness and redemption in the midst of tragedy small town gossip and pettiness. I love the way Strout creates a page turner out of ordinary events. Great read!
mrstreme on LibraryThing 10 months ago
"I suspect the most we can hope for, and it's no small hope, is that we never give up, that we never stop giving ourselves permission to try to love and receive love."Tyler Caskey is a young minister in a small town in Maine. When his wife does shortly after the birth of their second child, Tyler's world starts to disintegrate - slowly and steadily - until his congregation and town reach a crisis. How will Tyler respond? This question marks the remarkable Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout.Strout is a masterful storyteller. Like Olive Kitteridge and Amy and Isabelle, she slowly reveals information about her characters with each chapter. At first, for example, Tyler appears to be hanging on - if by a thread - but as the story continues, the reader realizes that Tyler is in desperate need of an ear to listen to him and a shoulder to weep on. With the touch of her words, Strout can broaden your view of a character and story - casting a new light and forcing you to reform your opinion. Characters who begin unlikable turn into vulnerable humans that you empathize with. People who appear calm and content are really raging inside. Abide With Me has all of this - and more.Admittedly, the book started out a little slow for me, but once it settled, especially during the last 50 pages, Abide With Me became spiritual and uplifting in its telling, offering the reader an introspective look at not only the lives of the characters - but his or her own life too. If you're a fan of Elizabeth Strout, Abide With Me is not a book to miss.
porch_reader on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I have Olive Kitteridge on my TBR shelf, and I plan to read it soon. But I was able to get this earlier book by Strout on CD at the library, so I¿ve been listening to it on my drives to work. In Abide with Me, Strout tells the story of Tyler Caskey, a widower and a minister in a small New England town. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about not only about the trials that Tyler faces in the early years of his marriage and his wife¿s rocky transition to life as a minister¿s wife, but also about the challenges that face his parishioners in West Annett. Throughout the story, the people of West Annett spent a good deal of dealing gossiping about each other, but very little time trying to understand or connect with each other. When moments of human connection do occur, they are poignantly described. I remember one moment especially, when Tyler¿s five-year-old daughter Katherine is given love, attention, and an Alice in Wonderland lunchbox by a neighbor, that brought me to tears. At first, I was mad at the characters in the story. Why were moments of understanding and kindness so rare? But perhaps their oversights were noticeable only to me, the omnipotent reader. I had the benefit of knowing the pain or uncertainty or loneliness felt by each character, and so I couldn¿t believe it when others didn¿t respond with care to those feelings. But Strout helped me realize that the people of West Annatt were not neglectful, but unaware. Strout is at her best as she reveals the troubles of her characters not only to her readers, but also to each other.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Abide with Me, like Strout's other two novels, is complex in nature, deeply provoking, and emotionally wrenching - and rendered in the most beautiful prose imaginable. There are pettiness, envy, jealousy, lust, sorrow, grief here, as well as an enviably articulate examination of questions of religious belief, compassion and love. Every major character is fully realized and compassionately drawn. There are no one-dimensional cardboard people here. Minister-protagonist Tyler Caskey and the parishioners of his small flock will stay with you for a long time after you put this book down. Perhaps one of the most compelling statements in this narrative comes late in the story, when one of Tyler's former teachers counsels him, saying: "No one, to my knowledge, has figured out the secret to love. We love imperfectly, Tyler. We all do. Even Jesus wrestled with that ... I suspect the most we can hope for, and it's no small hope, is that we never give up, that we never stop giving ourselves permission to try to love and receive love."Because Abide with Me is in the end, perhaps more than anything else, about love. I cannot emphasize enough that this is simply a beautiful novel. Beautiful.
SigmundFraud on LibraryThing 10 months ago
sensitive story, wonderful smooth writing, a book to savor
mbergman on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I hadn't liked very much this author's previous book, Amy & Isabelle. This one, much like The Passion of Reverend Nash from a couple of years ago, focuses on the trials & tribulations of a small-town Protestant minister, and, again like that one, has lots of thological reflection (Bonhoeffer is a favorite of this pastor). It's a rewarding story--a coming-of-age story in a way, for this pastor, in his mid- to late 20s, finally grows into adulthood, with all the tensions & complexities adulthood entails, and learns the perhaps trite lesson that it's just as important to accept love as it is to give it.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing 10 months ago
By the author of Amy and Isabelle - well-written, but the plot, about a minister whose wife died, wasn't as compelling.
edawmik22 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Good points made about humility, grace, and our hidden thoughts. I thought there was too much description of the settings for each scene. It slowed down the story too much. I like books that are focused on the relationships more than the settings.
suedonym on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I rated this book well because it grabbed me and shook me out of what I expected. I love it when a plot that I wouldn't expect to resonate with me does (in this case, I'm not very religious,so I wasn't sure what to think about a minister's story of duty & faith). I thought the ending was well-drawn and true to life -- I could see the characters behaving the way they did, based on how Strout had set them up.
kalobo on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A sweet story with hidden meaning. On the surface a story of a minister's struggle with faith, a husband's struggle to father his motherless children. But it's also a story about the fallibility of a moral code and the need to sometimes cross it. I liked it very much
carmarie on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I enjoyed this book. The writer gave great depth to the characters, but I would have liked to have gotten more story on the daughter. She was very interesting. The story telling was very well put together. I would definately recommend this book.
pdebolt on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is a novel that won't disappoint its readers. The prose is clear, the plot is believable and the characters have a strength and integrity that rings true. At the end of this book, I felt as if the main character were someone I liked very much and had known for a long time. His faith and fortitude in the face of very dire circustances were evident, and made his vulnerability all the more touching. I felt a sense of peace at the conclusion. Thank you, Ms. Strout, for a remarkably excellent book.
Stensvaag on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A very nice book capturing snapshots in the life of a minister in semi-rural Maine. I especially enjoyed the realistic insights into the pressures and obligations of the pastor, and the interesting cast of characters in the community. I was slightly let down by the ending, but I am not sure that I could suggest a better one.