I loved Strout's 1999 book Amy and Isabelle. Abide with Me was wonderful also, very gentle, very subtle. It is the story of a family and a community in New England in 1959, a place where everyone knows your business, and everyone has an opinion, good or bad. In this family, the father is a minister, the mother has recently died of cancer (though we meet her in flashback), the older daughter has withdrawn into mute, antisocial behavior, and the younger daughter is absent, in the care of her stubborn, unhelpful grandmother. The father, Tyler, has a crisis of faith, in addition to a worsening ability to cope with day to day life. The reaction of the community is at times helpful, at times destructive. The resolution is satisfying and appropriate.
The book is also an interesting portrait of a time in America that I don't often read about. Cold war politics, issues of race, and the role of women are alluded to, but not overdone. The author's careful attention to detail adds to the story but is never distracting. Even the most minor characters are skillfully created to be unique and memorable. This is the work of a really excellent writer, and a pleasure to read.
Here is an interesting review from the Washington Post. Also, Nancy Pearl (see links at right) has featured it this month in Pearl's Picks.
(Book 33, 2006)