The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 2021

Towles is a top notch storyteller.  His first two books were best selling novels and this one was as well, spending weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and being named a NYT Notable book and one of the year’s best by Oprah Daily, Time, NPR, The Washington Post and Barack Obama.  With that introduction, I approached it with some skepticism and failed to get past the first few chapters on two occasions before finally sitting down with time and determination to see what Towles had accomplished.

And what a successful novel he had produced.  Using multiple narrators who often describe the same incident from different viewpoints, Towles takes us to Nebraska in 1954 where Emmett Winston has just been released from prison and returns to his family farm (shades of Tom Joad in ‘Grapes of Wrath’!!!).  From this inauspicious beginning we meet a group of characters who are drawn in quick visual strokes in all their complexity and depth.  Some of them are with us on the adventurous trail from Nebraska to New York City and the Adirondacks and some of them appear for a moment, but what a moment.  Often frustrated and even angry with one of them (Duchess), I was swept along by the book through its nearly 600 pages with this tale of family love, literary relevance, greed, good and evil.  It’s all there, and though the ending left me somewhat confused and a bit unsatisfied, it was a great ride.

I’ll spare you the details except to say that my favorite encounter was between Abacus (only a single brief chapter) and Ulysses (not much more), two minor characters whose lives sketched in only the briefest details by Towles drew me deeply into their humanity and experiences.

Read this book for a reminder of the power of novels and stories.  It’s a bit heavy to schlep to the beach, but it’s worth it.