Abide With Me

By Sabin Willett

(Simon & Schuster, $16, 384 pages)

Who is this author?

Sabin Willett, a lawyer who lives in Natick, Mass. and spends a lot of time in Vermont, is also a novelist. He studied Classics at Harvard, and worked as a police reporter before earning his law degree. His previous three novels are “The Deal,” “The Betrayal” and “Present Value.” His current book, “Abide With Me,” was inspired by Willett’s experience as a defense attorney at the Guantanamo military base. It was there, he writes, that he began developing the main characters of the book, Roy and Emma.

What is this book about?

Think “Wuthering Heights,” if that classic romantic novel had been set in the hills of Vermont, not the English moors.

Roy Murphy, a wild and sometimes violent kid, grows up fast in Afghanistan, but one thing never changes. He’s still in the grip of a deep romantic fascination with his hometown’s lovely rich girl, Emma Herrick, who was briefly his high school girlfriend. She, not coincidentally, lives in the Hoosick Falls mansion known as “the Heights,” which has seen better days.

When Roy comes back from the war, he aims to grab some of the Herricks’ fame and fortune. And Emma, even though she has married while Roy was gone.

Why you’ll like it:

Tales of star-crossed lovers have universal appeal, and this one, which is underpinned by scenes that capture the grimness of the war in Afghanistan, is out to break your heart. Not every reviewer liked the book, however. The Washington Post was particularly unimpressed and Kirkus Reviews snarked thusly: “Too much wuthering, too few heights…” Nevertheless, other reviewers found it a good read.

What others are saying:

“Sabin Willett mines his settings of Afghanistan and small-town New England with equal gusto. “Abide with Me” is a big, generous, tasty, funny, rich novel,” says author Stewart O’Nan.

Library Journal says: “Roy Murphy left his Vermont hometown of Hoosick Bridge as the local bad boy. He returns as a veteran of the Afghanistan war. When he departed, he was madly in love with Emma Herrick, and this soldier still pines for her when he walks back into town. Emma is a member of Hoosick Bridge’s first family… Gossip quickly begins to swirl as Roy seeks to rekindle what he had as a young man even though Emma has married and moved on. VERDICT Willett’s reinterpretation of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” adds a fresh contemporary take to a classic love story by detailing the very real consequences of men returning to normal society after being subjected to the terrors of war.”

 Kirkus Reviews says: “He’s a bad boy from the trailer park; she’s a princess in small-town Vermont; but their electric connection spans class and time. Sound familiar? The second-best thing that happened to young Roy Murphy was being sent to juvenile detention after firing a gun to scare off the drug dealer preying on his mother. The best thing was his magical 10-week teenage affair with Emma Herrick, the beautiful blonde daughter of Hoosick Bridge’s first family. In his fourth novel, Willett updates the star-crossed love story of “Wuthering Heights,” while adding dashes of Homer, “Jane Eyre” and a “Band of Brothers”–style camaraderie. The looping narrative, full of foreboding and forewarning, is at its strongest during scenes of Murphy’s five-year military term in Afghanistan. Returning, he learns of Emma’s father’s financial disgrace and suicide and Emma’s engagement to nice, preppy lawyer George. Roy now devotes himself to making money, so successfully that two years later he can buy Emma’s family home, the Heights, which he shares with Emma’s half-demented mother and George’s boho sister Izzy, who is now Roy’s occasional lover, until a mysterious fire redraws the landscape. Too much wuthering, too few heights in a story that describes eternal passion but doesn’t give it life or a satisfactory ending.”

When is it available?

“Ábide With Me” is at the Downtown Hartford Public Library now.

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