Book review: The Lincoln Highway

Amor Towles’ most recently published novel, “The Lincoln Highway,” is his third novel, and possibly his best. Set in 1954, the story traces the lives of three eighteen year old boys and one younger brother who is eight years old. They take this unexpected journey from Nebraska to New York City all enroute to San Francisco in what turns out to be a circuitous adventure. I admire the author for taking on yet again such a grand writing project with such detailed character development and intricate story-telling that it just flies by as a reader.

Time is important and thoughtfully crafted again by Amor Towles.  He set this in 1954, when his previous novel, “The Gentleman in Moscow,” ended. Just an interesting overlap.  Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954, which ended the separate but equal status quo, but the civil rights movement hasn’t started yet, nor has the modern day development of so many revolutions that we take for granted.  I didn’t realize that he chose that year so specifically until I listened to his introduction here.  It is fascinating looking back on the book now to know this because he did capture this year in that it was seemingly quintessential 1950s – a very pre-social revolution America, a much more “Mad Men” era.  

Again he has shifted gears with his timeframe.  This time the entire story lasts only ten days.  This change is exciting while reading because of the known deadline looming. I found the shorter time span refreshing compared with the thirty plus years in Gentleman in Moscow.  This style was much more similar to his first book, “The Rules of Civility,” which I find I enjoyed more in terms of cadence than Gentleman in Moscow.  I think the tight time frame is an attraction for any reader who wants a faster paced plot.    

The structure of the novel in terms of narration keeps a reader’s interest because certain scenes are retold from multiple perspectives of different characters.  I found this to be a great learning experience actually in that it reveals such a basic truth of life.  We can never tell what another person’s experience and perspective is of an event even when we are at the same event.  However, once that is done a few times I did find myself wanting to propel through certain events without going through multiple perspectives.  This may be a product of my aversion to violence and sinister behavior. 

My aversion also caused me to dislike and truly be fearful of one of the main characters: Dutchess.  Spoiler alert:  In the end of the novel, after Dutchess died in the water, I really struggled with Emmett’s culpability.  Only after going to the Q & A by the author did I find his reasoning.  I feel like maybe this needed to be clarified in the book.  I was left with such an internal struggle.  In addition, I am still wondering what happened to Dutchess’ father.

Overall, Amor Towles has told what has been coined another, “Towles Tale.”  Where he comes up with these stories is a mystery to me even with all the wonderfully open descriptions he has provided of his writing process and methodology.  It takes such a gifted writer to synthesize years of learning and reading to craft such beautiful novels.  Hopefully many more of his books are still to come.

© 2022 Megan Davia Mikhail

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