Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo: a Novel

Lincoln in the Bardo: a Novel / George Saunders, 341 pp.

Lincoln's beloved son Willie dies in 1862.  The war is going badly.  Lincoln visits his son in the cemetery, generating excitement among the cemetery's denizens, and raising Willie's hopes that he will return.

I started this book, which is narrated by dead people, three times and set it aside. There are the fictional dead characters, the main ones being Hans Vollman, printer married to a much younger woman with whom he was deeply in love, Roger Bevins III, a closeted gay man who killed himself, and the Reverend Everly Thomas, whose life on the other side never comes quite into focus.  Interspersed with their poignant and hilarious commentary are pages of quotes from real historical people, whose observations advance the narrative in the world of the living.  (Except everyone is dead at this point, of course.)

On the fourth try, I reached about 100 pages, give or take, still thinking I would only finish out of duty.  And suddenly I was completely hooked, and now think this might make my lifetime top twenty.

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