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Elizabeth Strout

Photo of Elizabeth Strout

Photo: © Leonardo Cendamo

About the Author

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge; the #1 New York Times bestseller My Name Is Lucy Barton; The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller; Abide with Me, a national bestseller and Book Sense pick; and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker and O: The Oprah Magazine. Elizabeth Strout lives in New York City.

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Vintage Contemporaries

Author Essay

The Reverend Tyler Caskey wants to be a good husband, a good father, and a good minister to his congregation in this small New England town. Charismatic and kind-hearted, he has been loved by many, and has successfully maneuvered his way around the difficult head deacon, Charlie Austin, a man traumatized by his war experience, and whose pain is private, but pernicious to others. Then an unexpected tragedy causes Tyler to act outside his system of belief, and he begins to lose his sense of self, as well as the good wishes of his community. His only friend becomes his quiet housekeeper, Connie Hatch.

In writing this book I was interested in the following issues:

Compassion. Is compassion a luxury? Something we are able provide only when things are going well — or well enough — in our own lives?

Our moral code and sense of self. What happens when we find ourselves acting outside our own previously devised moral code? How do we reconcile the difference between the way we assumed our life would be, and what life actually brings to us?

Criminal vs. non-criminal acts. Why has society decided that some things we might do are offenses against the state and punishable by the law, while other acts fall into that murky area of a more personal decision about what is right and what is wrong?

Religious faith. How do we maintain our religious faith when we find ourselves acting in ways that go against what we think we believe in? What is it like to be a minister whose job is to be the spiritual leader of his community when his sudden grief barely allows him to hang on?

Secrets. When does a secret begin to erode our sense of self and cause a feeling of isolation that spills pain onto others? When do we decide to keep a secret to ourselves?

Psychological theories vs. religious beliefs. How effective can we be in understanding the feelings — particularly of children — by applying a psychological interpretation to their experience? How can these theories be integrated into religious thought?

Love vs. fear. What is it that causes the power of love to emerge and become stronger than the power of fear? And how does this affect not only our personal lives, but the state of the world?

I write because people amaze me, and life awes me. I write because I hope that by telling the stories of others, and by reading the stories of others, we can possibly see the world in a larger way, and that we can enjoy a good, old-fashioned storytelling experience along the way.

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