Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Given that I’ve only read 1 book in th first 7 weeks of the year, it’s clear I won’t reach my output of the past two years. The two main reasons are that I’m not riding an hour and a half on a bus commuting to and from work each day and I’ve become enamored with podcasts, especially WTF by Marc Maron.
Tyler Caskey is a widower pastor in Maine. He has two children and his wife died sometime after he took his position at the church. Like the other Elizabeth Strout novels I’ve read (Amy & Isabelle; The Burgess Boys) we read about a life changing event. Like The Burgess Boys we are viewing the lives after that event.
Tyler is obviously having difficulty dealing with his wife’s death and his oldest daughter – an elementary school student – is obviously having problems as well. There is no way Tyler can adequately deal with his problems in this small, reserved town. “He had expected an easing of his grief after that first year, but this was not the case. When Doris Austin’s desire for a new organ became known to him – the church treasurere, the board, even a deacon had spoken to him on her behalf – it seemed like an ant in the far corner of a room that people were pointing to, while for him the room was spinning” (p277)
We see that the marriage wasn’t perfect and how difficult it would be to be a pastor, or a pastor’s wife, in a small 1-church town in Maine with all its noted reserve.
The town starts to pull away from him based on gossip and innuendo until everything comes to a head one Sunday.
Strout has some fantastic insights into life and she is just fantastic when describing nature, light and shadow.
“It was still October when the first snow fell. It came in the afternoon, light as white dandelion thistles being dropped from high in the sky. They took their time reaching ground, so light and sparse they floated. But there was a quiet steadiness to the snow, and by late afternoon, a soft covering lay over places where the ground swelled.” (p 177)
“The world, with its pale noonday light washing down through the mostly bare trees, seemed filled with invisible currents – strips of knowledge he seemed unable to get hold of.” (p 211)”
The HBO series “Olive Kitteridge” is taken from her novel of that same name. I haven’t seen the series or read the book but I think Tyler’s mother is the same type of person.
Come the end of the day, I don’t find this novel nearly as strong and compelling as the other two I’ve read. The plot ties up just a little too easily.