Friday, October 04, 2013

Wuthering Heights Meets Operation Enduring Freedom - Review of "Abide With Me" by Sabin Willett

In his stunningly beautiful and tragic novel, "Abide With Me," Sabin Willett  bows deeply to "Wuthering Heights," and then goes on to tell his own tale of a 21st Century Heathcliff.  Roy Murphy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a double wide trailer in a small Vermont town of Hoosick Bridge in which everyone knows everyone else's business.  His level of taciturnity makes even Calvin Coolidge appear garrulous by comparison.  He keeps his own counsel, seldom communicates verbally with family or friends, yet possesses the ability to influence people by the strength of his will and his incredible tenacity and stubbornness.

While in school and while they were still kids, Murphy falls in love with Emma, the daughter of the most prominent and wealthy family in town, owners of an iconic decaying Victorian mansion, known as "The Heights," that sits on a hill overlooking the town.  The father of the family has died in mysterious and suspicious circumstances, and the families finances have taken a dramatic downward turn.  The friendship between Roy and Emma takes place largely in stealth mode, with them finding escape in the lakes, streams and woods that surround the town.  When the town's people and Emma's family learn of the illicit teenage romance, they are concerned and scandalized.  Why would the most attractive and sought-after girl in town mess around with someone from that neighborhood - and Roy Murphy of all people?

Emma eventually goes off to Yale, thinking she has left behind her brief walk on the wild side.  Roy enlists, goes off the Afghanistan and becomes a war hero.  His return to Hoosick Bridge and the smoldering of the love that he still harbors for Emma, despite her love for another man, is the stuff of the narrative of this novel.  The story is written with elegance and pathos.  Drawing deeply from the well of Emily Bronte's tragic tale, this story of a modern Heathcliff and his refusal to accept defeat in love is spellbinding and deeply moving.

I found myself unable to put down the book until I knew what was going to happen next.  The action is both inevitable and surprising.  The characters are beautifully wrought, and I found myself rooting for the unlikely anti-hero to prevail,



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