rev. of Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout

Issue #99
Spring 2006

Abide with Me, a novel by Elizabeth Strout (Random House): This second novel by the author of the extraordinary Amy and Isabelle further mines the conflicts, contradictions, and complications of small town life. Tyler Caskey, an observant and vulnerable minister in West Annett, Maine, must concomitantly confront the death of his relatively young wife, the growing challenges of raising a complex young daughter, and his own doubts about himself, his calling, and the people he must try to serve. His tasks are so formidable that "by summer he seemed like a big tractor being driven by a teenage kid, slipping in and out of gear." Throughout, Strout conveys these rich lives against a stark landscape with deft strokes of evocation and fresh psychological portraiture: "He drove with the window down, his elbow resting on the window edge, ducking his head to peer at the hills in the distance, or at a cloud, white as a huge dollop of frosting, and at the side of a barn, fresh with red paint, lit by this autumn sun; and he thought: I would have noticed this once." This is terrific work from start to finish, told with a wonderfully elastic and perceptive and knowledgeable voice, by a writer clearly practicing at the top of her craft. —Fred Leebron