Sunday, March 31, 2013
Book Thoughts - Abide With Me by Sabin Willett
Synopsis from publisher -
As the fog lifts one morning, a lone soldier is walking home. Who is he? The sleepy, gossipy town of Hoosick Bridge, Vermont, has forgotten him, but it will soon remember. He is Roy Murphy, returning to face his violent, complicated reputation. Returning to Emma Herrick, descendant of Hoosick Bridge's first family, who occupies its grandest, now decaying, house: the Heights.
Their intense and unlikely adolescent romance provided scandalous gossip for the town. The young lovers escaped Hoosick Bridge, but Emma remained Roy's obsession long after they parted. Now Roy returns from Afghanistan a changed and extraordinary man who will stop at nothing to obtain a piece of the Herrick's legacy.
My thoughts -
I found this novel to be extremely successful in some ways, and in others much less so. There are really two parts to Abide With Me - Roy's time in Afghanistan, and Roy's relationship with Emma. While the author weaves the two strands of the narrative together throughout the novel, for me they always felt like two very different stories.
I was engrossed in the story of Roy and his military unit in Afghanistan. Those sections of the novel were compelling in a way that felt completely authentic. I have never been in the military myself, but Willett's descriptions of the rag-tag bunch of soldiers and their bond with each other had the ring of truth in every sentence.
"Most of them up there were scarcely more than boys. They emblazoned their arms and chests and backs with the tattoos of warriors; most smoked the same foul cigarettes, laced their language the same way, and tried to outmacho each other, but every one of them feared the day of his death." (p. 168)
I found myself connecting emotionally to this group of brash young men, and the most emotional part of the novel for me came with the death of one of Roy's fellow soldiers -
"At first it was a weeping for everything lost, stripped from a young man who had clambered from the pit to the surface, who would raise himself from that pit and now must surely slip back into it, a weeping from the deepest kind of hopelessness - hopelessness that for an unexpected time in an unexpected place was privileged to see hope itself, to believe in it, and now had it ripped away...He wept and cradled he who had been a man but was now a marionette lying crumpled and broken on a mountainside in Afghanistan, a heap, a pile, with all the strings severed." (p. 262)
Roy and Emma's relationship, however - the "obsessive love" part of the story - never carried the same intensity. Perhaps because I didn't feel that Emma was developed enough as a character, but I was continually less involved in the story of their doomed affair. I found myself wanting to rush through those sections, to return to the war story. I do understand the comparisons to Wuthering Heights, but don't believe the love story was the strength of this novel.
While not completely a hit, I did find much in Abide With Me to enjoy. I would certainly read more by this author, particularly if he writes again about a group of soldiers.
Finished - 3/26/13
Source - review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating - R for violence, adult situations, language, and graphic depictions of war
My rating - 6/10