Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Abide With Me"

I very much liked Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 collection of interconnected stories, “Olive Kittredge.” I have now just listened to her 2006 novel, “Abide With Me” (Random House, 2006) on CD. It is the story of a young minister, Tyler Caskey, who works in a small town in New England in the 1950s. His wife has died, and one of his small daughters is having a very hard time adjusting to losing her mother. Although Tyler is popular with his congregation, a confluence of events causes him to feel beset, worn down, and less confident of his place with this group of people in this small town. The author expertly demonstrates how a good situation can become shaky and threatened, almost before anyone realizes what is happening, and how generally good people can make very human mistakes and not realize the consequences of those mistakes. Tyler is both an admirable and likable character who struggles with his humanity and that of others. He is deeply connected to God and committed to his ministry, yet has his weaknesses, doubts, and fears. The story is about God, the spirit, human nature, family, communities, the toll of grief, the difficulties of adjusting to change, the vulnerability of children, the dangers of gossip, and more. Strout’s characters are very well drawn, believable, sad, and all too human.

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