ABIDE WITH ME by Elizabeth Strout

I read Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel Amy and Isabelle a few years ago for a book club. I remember liking it, not loving it. It’s the story of an estranged mother and adolescent daughter living in New England sometime in the past… the daughter has fallen in love with her cad of a math teacher, her single mother has a big secret from her past that she’s never told her daughter, and the residents of their small town like to gossip about both of them. Not a bad book.

StroutStrout’s second novel, Abide with Me, looks like it takes some of those same themes — single parenthood, small towns, secrets — but explores them more deeply and with more substance.  It’s the story of Tyler, a recently-widowed minister struggling to raise two small daughters, and how his loss and inability to cope force him to question his faith and his calling.  From the Washington Post review:

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.

More magazine calls it a "wise" book.  From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Strout continues her astute and moving explorations into the curious nature of human beings in her second novel, Abide With Me. She offers another rich, communal portrait of a small town, with its petty, hurtful gossip offset by the astonishing power of kindness and friendship…. Strout tackles "serious stuff" in Abide With Me — including delicate moral distinctions between euthanasia, suicide and abortion. Like Amy and Isabelle, her second novel radiates a humane, life-affirming warmth even after acknowledging that it is a "sad world." Abide With Me is a book to curl up with on a bleak day, a book that isn’t embarrassed to assert that "where there are people, there is always the hope of love."

I also just searched through a number of blog posts on this book and they were almost all positive, though several note that the book is depressing. (What else is new?) 

Has anyone read this book?