Abide with Me by Sabin Willett
Simon & Schuster ~ 384 pages
What happens to love when its only sustenance is its memory? In Abide with Me, Sabin Willett’s first departure from crime dramas, the townsfolk in the small Vermont town of Hoosick Bridgetry to answer that question as they discuss the unlikely romance between the oldest daughter of the town’s most respectable family, Emma Herrick, and the boy from the trailer park across town, Roy Murphy. Left with few options after coming out of the state’s juvenile criminal system, Roy joins the military and leaves Emma behind after spending a whirlwind summer with her.
“It was a natural attraction. It was easy. That was the thing – they meshed so easily. There was no need of talk. But already, during the briefest separations that summer, matters of a day only, the waves of restlessness came, an unquiet that grew with the length of his absence, and subsided when he was near. He had become a kind of addiction for her.”
Determined to do the right thing by her family, Emma tries to forget about Roy and begins her Ivy League schooling but, in the remote deserts of Afghanistan, Roy’s memories of that summer are all he has, and he is determined to return to her.
Willett’s novel is a modern-day retelling of Wuthering Heights – Emma’s sisters are Anna and Charlie, and the family calls their house “The Heights” – but Willett does not stick too closely to the plot of the original Bronte masterpiece. The retelling is in the theme, which is the darker, possessive side of love.
Prior to putting pen to paper, Willett spent a significant amount of time talking to soldiers in Guantanamo Bay, and it is clear in the novel that he did his research for the scenes in Afghanistan. However, what’s interesting to me is the way he captures the emotions of a soldier with PTSD. Like most Americans, the townspeople of Hoosick Bridge seem divided on how to care for veterans suffering from PTSD, but Willett does not shy away from showing what PTSD looks like through the eyes of Roy Murphy.
That being said, this is not a heavily political novel about veteran’s rights. At its core, it’s a tragic love story that is hard to stop reading once you’ve started. After the initial few chapters that set up the world in which Roy and Emma live, the novel picks up the pace and moves along nicely for the remainder of the story. While romance may not be at the forefront of Willett’s novel, the story captivates the reader with authentic characters whose humanity radiates through their personal triumphs and tragedies.
More information: Sabin Willet website
About the reviewer: Kasey Ray-Stokes holds a B.A. in English Communications from Armstrong Atlantic State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. Kasey's micro-nonfiction piece, "Hearth," was recently published as part of a collection of flash writing in the 6S Love Book. She also writes and produces independent films through her production company, Still Starr Productions, which she co-founded with her business partner and husband, Mark Ezra Stokes. They reside in Savannah, Georgia, with their son, Benjamin.