With four children in an old Studebaker, Amor Towles takes readers on a real ride
Lincoln Highway is a ride. Amor Towles’ new Great American Road Novel follows four boys – three 18-year-olds who met in a juvenile reformatory, plus an intelligent 8-year-old boy – as they left Nebraska in June 1954, in an old Studebaker in pursuit of a better future. If this book were written today, their constant detours and U-turns would send GPS to paroxysms of navigation recalculations. But buckle down to this delicious tour de force and you’ll be dragged to the end, helpless in the face of the inventive exuberance of Towles’ storytelling.
Like his first two novels, Lincoln Highway is elegantly constructed and compulsively readable. Again, one of the ideas that Towles explores is how evil can be outweighed by decency and kindness at any point in the socio-economic ladder. His first novel, Rules of civility (2011), which takes place among social wrestlers in New York in 1936, is inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald and its title from the book by George Washington Rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation. His much appreciated second novel, A gentleman in Moscow (2016), incorporated nods to great Russian writers and nuances of Eloise at the Plaza and Wes Anderson The Grand Hotel in Budapest. Mostly confined to one setting – Moscow’s luxurious Metropol Hotel – it lasted 32 years under Stalin’s dark reign.
Towles’ new novel stretches further geographically – from farmland in Nebraska to the Adirondacks of New York to some of New York’s iconic landmarks – but its action-packed plot squeezes into just 10 days. Lincoln Highway, who has a debt to Huckleberry Finn, revisits American myths with a mix of warm humor and occasional outbursts of physical violence and malice reminiscent of EL Doctorow’s work, including Ragtime.
The novel begins on June 12, 1954 and ends on the same date, which is obviously no coincidence, because A gentleman in Moscow. When we meet him, Towles’ latest hero Emmett Watson was released from custody months earlier due to the death of his father, the foreclosure of the family farm and his responsibility to his 8-year-old brother, Billy. (Billy was skillfully taken care of by a neighbor’s hardworking daughter, Sally, while Emmett was away; she’s another great character.) The kind headmaster who brings Emmett home reminds him that what makes him sent to the Kansas Reformatory was “the ugly side of luck” but now he has paid his debt to society and has his whole life ahead of him.
Shortly after the Headmaster leaves, two fellow inmates show up, stowaways in the Headmaster’s trunk – the troublemaker Duchess and her hapless but gentle protege, Woolly. (In another fun connection for Towles nerds, the naive founder of the Wallace “Woolly” trust Wolcott Martin is the nephew of Wallace Wolcott of Rules of civility.)
The impatience to find out what brought these three disparate Musketeers into custody is one of the many things that prompts us to turn the pages. Expectations are upset several times. A point to remember is that a single wrong turn can cause you to deviate from the road for years, but not necessarily irrevocably.
Lincoln Highway concerns, among other things, the act of telling stories and creating myths. The novel asks questions about how to structure a story and where to start; its chapters count down from ten to one as they build up to a climax. Towles’ intricate story is underpinned by young Billy’s obsession with a large red alphabetical compendium of 26 heroes and adventurers – both mythical and real – from Achilles to Zorro, though the letter Y is left blank so that you (the reader) records yours intrepid quest.
Billy is determined to follow the Lincoln Highway west to San Francisco, where he hopes to reunite with his mother, who abandoned her family when he was a baby and Emmett was 8 years old. life – roundabout, recursive route.) Whether driving boxcars or “borrowed” cars, the characters in Towles are constantly sidetracked by one deadly adventure after another – giving Billy plenty of material for one chapter. Thrilling, once he figured out where to start. One thing the intelligent Billy has just realized: he belongs to a long tradition of acolytes who come to save the day.
“Most of us shell our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world in amazement,” Towles wrote in his first novel. Of course, Towles is drawn to that one in a thousand. He is interested in those whose zeal has yet to be subdued by what Duchess (the only first-person narrator) describes, with an improbable flair for an uneducated 18-year-old, as “the thumb of the reality in that place of the soul from which the enthusiasm of youth springs. “With the exception of Woolly, the teenagers in this novel are remarkably mature by today’s standards and overwhelmed with worry. at any age, it is the young at heart who are most open to astonishment – people like Woolly, who may not be cut out for this world but who can enjoy what he calls a “once in a lifetime” day. his genre .”
There is so much to enjoy in this generous novel filled with fantastic characters – men and women, black and white, rich and poor – and filled with digressions, magic tricks, sorry sagas, retaliation and business. messy to balance the books. “How easily we – we in the storytelling arena – forget that life was the goal all along,” comments Towles’ oldest character as he embarks on an unexpected adventure. It’s something Towles never forgets.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of information through you. As a non-profit organization, donations from people like you support journalism that allows us to uncover stories that are important to our audiences. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.