Monday, January 2, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

 A Gentleman in Moscow is one of my favorite books, so I had to read Amor Towles’ The Lincoln

. The premise is that Emmett Watson, an 18-year-old Nebraska farmer’s boy, has just been released from a work farm where he had been imprisoned for 15 months for involuntary manslaughter. He is essentially orphaned since his father has just died and his mother ran off when he was about ten. He isn’t alone though. He has an eight-year-old brother, Billy--a very serious eight-year-old who sees everything in terms of heroic quests--who is now Emmett’s responsibility. Because their father’s farm has been foreclosed and because Emmett can’t stay in the town where friends and relatives of the man he killed still live, Emmett is ready for a new start. He has a car and three thousand dollars that his father hid for him. He has a plan: he’s a skilled carpenter and is going to flip houses. All good so far.

Unfortunately, two friends from the work farm have escaped by hiding in the trunk of the warden’s car. (The warden drove Emmett home.) Now, Emmett is roped into taking the other two, Duchess and Woolly, along for the ride – a ride that has been hijacked by Duchess.

Duchess is a slick-talking boy full of schemes who wants retribution for the ills done to him and to repay debts that he owes, according to an accounting scheme of his own. Duchess is due a little sympathy. His father was a mountebank who continually betrayed his own son in order to see to himself first. However, Duchess has inherited his father’s sociopathic personality. He can be kind as long as it serves his purpose, but the minute things don’t go his way, he’s ready to steal, cheat, or kill and rationalize it afterward. 

Woolly is an old-money, trust-fund boy who gets into one scrape after another because he can’t think things through to see consequences. He seems to be neurodivergent, but in a way that is difficult to characterize. He’s also addicted to his medicine, which must be some kind of opiate, but it’s never explained what it is or why he was given it in the first place. Woolly has been left $150,000 in cash by his grandfather, held in a safe in the old family vacation home in the Adirondacks. He’s willing to split it with Duchess if Duchess can get him there. And Duchess is willing to split it three ways if Emmett helps them out. But because Emmett has plans of his own and no interest in detouring to the Adirondacks, Duchess manipulates him by stealing his car.

There are other important characters: Billy, the younger brother; Sally, the daughter of a neighboring farmer who has spent her life taking care of others and now wants out; and Ulysses, a wandering war veteran trying to atone for having left behind his wife and son. There are also various family members, strangers, and old acquaintances.

The story is an epic adventure. A journey. A quest. The characters are all well-drawn individuals but are also somewhat archetypal. The writing is beautiful and simple.

Nevertheless, the book didn’t meet my high expectations. The characters were too “mythic” and never really elicited an emotional response from me – except for Duchess who elicited annoyance. The book ended with too many loose ends. That avoided any endings that were too pat, but also made for an unsatisfying conclusion. Still, I’ll be reading whatever Amor Towles writes next.

No comments:

Post a Comment