Small town residents need gossip to keep them entertained and Hoosick Bridge, Vermont is no different. One of the primary targets of the town’s talk: the Herricks, the town’s wealthiest and “first” family. On the opposite end of the spectrum is local bad boy and trailer park resident, Roy Murphy. Roy and Emma have nothing in common, except love. Though their romance develops inexplicably, the two are drawn together beyond all reason. The summer after high school is one neither could forget. However, at summer’s end, Emma goes to Yale and Roy goes to Afghanistan. Whereas Emma slowly moves on in the wake of family tragedy, Roy has nothing but Emma to think about for years. After being discharged from the Army, Roy moves homes to discover the world has moved on without him - though he refuses to let it stay that way.
Abide With Me is a loose retelling of Wuthering Heights. Naturally, this made me a bit nervous as my distaste for that classic is no secret. However, Abide With Me does what I considered impossible, it inspired compassion for the characters. Roy and Emma are two people deeply obsessed (and yes, in love) with each other. Circumstances keep them apart, but ultimately neither can seem to move on – with tragic results.
A large portion of this novel takes place over two summers in Vermont. If you’ve never spent a summer in New England, it is a magical season. Hot and hazy, it is a perfect backdrop for the kind of love that develops between Roy and Emma – dangerous, obsessive, and sustaining. I say sustaining, because there can be no other reason New Englanders suffer through winter if not in anticipation of summer. Also, I imagine, love has to be one of the more powerful incentives to stay alive when in battle.
Abide With Me investigates the dark side of love and the psychological dangers of war and obsession. The novel alternates between the past and the present, Vermont and Afghanistan, and does an admirable job of developing a distinct sense of place for each one. While characters and situations are rarely pleasant, the story is deeply compelling. Sabin Willett set out to reinterpret the brooding classic and has succeeded. Although it features a well-known emotional landscape, Willet navigates the terrain with a compelling new voice. Highly recommended, 4/5.