Here we find again , after the amazing "Olive Kittenridge", a small New England community bathed in an austere Calvinistic atmosphere, which is severe, pious, vengefully conformist and eventually oriented towards the good .It is the locus of Elizabeth Strout as a writer.In the middle of this social puritan nest arrives a character almost sprung out of Hawthorne: a charismatic minister intent to impart the presence of God to all,so profound is his faith and so serene is his belief in the goodness of his flock .Such a man is unfit for social life and could only live in a monastery, but Reverend Tyler Caskey obtains amazingly a beautiful and sexy wife who astonishes his parish no end and, like Eva , will sow sin and evil in this little paradise. This classic puritan story a little reminiscent of " The Scarlet Letter" appears as haunting and heart breaking as this seminal novel was .It is a dramatic story who verges on the tragic, not only because of the complete psychical collapse of the pastor but also because Innocents cannot survive in any society , and certainly not in a puritan one.
Elizabeth Strout writes a moving but precise, almost dry prose when decribing people,and is luminous , lovely and poetic in the painting of the natural world so present in New England , but mainly she delivers a moral tale. Who is this dangerous Innocent who presents this ordinary town with his unfit presence, naiveté and irresponsible piousness, and with his" glamour broad "of a wife ? Does he not understand that humans have codes, that social fabric is fragile , that ministers and their wife represent a higher semi divine presence , and that house maids are to be kept in their place ? No, he is obtuse and hypocritical, he hides behind God's supposed presence and his own do- goodness ; naturally catastrophe ensues. After the dreadful death of his wife, unable to grasp his loss, he does not see the infantile depression of his small daughter ,lets his terrible mother run his life, and stuck dumb by evil gossip, finally breaks down pitifully in front of his congregation .What a catastrophe!
But apart from the fascinating story and its plot, we wonder what keeps the poor man going if it is not the love of his congregation who forgives him and asks to keep him as a minister ; he loves an hymn often played in church , whose lovely verses console him ' Abide with Me " . .. We feel curiously that we also must enter this congregation and abide with the suffering souls in this world, help them and love them enough to restore them. Strout is able in this profoundly religious novel to open a hidden and perhaps vanishing inner world , a world that she intelligently places in archetypal New England , Maine in this case.