A full decade later, I still think back on summer 2003 as one of my best seasons. It was my first (and only) real summer romance, when I look back now, that summer seemed to last forever. Being young and in love in the heat of summer can be surreal. It certainly was for me at the time. Those were the best days of my life. Have I mentioned I love the ‘80’s?
Emma Herrick and Roy Murphy understand the power of summer romance. To outsiders (as is the case in most relationships), their romance develops inexplicably. Whether inexplicable or not, the two are drawn together beyond all reason and sanity. Their summer after high school is unforgettable. And as small towns are wont to do, Hoosick Bridge residents incessantly speculate about the couple, even after they part. The Herrick’s, as the town’s wealthiest and “first” family, were already a hot topic and Emma’s behavior is duly reported. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though an equally enticing topic, is local bad boy and trailer park resident, Roy Murphy.
Regardless of passion, at summer’s end Emma departs Vermont for Yale and Roy is deploys to Afghanistan. Their connection is seemingly severed. Whereas Emma slowly moves on in the wake of family tragedy, Roy has nothing but Emma to pine for and envision for years. Upon being discharged from the Army, Roy moves home to discover the world, including Emma, 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 inspires 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 most powerful incentives to live for.
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.
For local readers who are suffering through Winter Storm Triton with me, this novel is the perfect escape. It’s more literary than your average beach read and will appeal to classics enthusiasts as well. Abide With Me took me back a decade and reminded me of how enthralling a summer romance can be. I’d highly recommend one of those as well. Now I’ll go shovel – again – it’ll be good for my abs.
Roy is a champion takeout purchaser. His favorite seemed to be Chinese (though there was no definitive declaration), so I’m recommending Sesame Chicken.
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.