Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Guys, I am not going to lie. This novel knocked me over in ways I was not expecting. I had resisted reading Lincoln in the Bardo for months, because I was not sure about how good it would actually be. But when it won the Man Booker Prize (still plenty of shade for the committee to open it up to Americans; guys, we DO have the National Book Award, you know), I caved and put in a library hold.
The first twenty pages made me SO MAD. I was like, WHY ARE THERE WEIRD NAMES HERE WHAT IS HAPPENING. And then, something my sister had told me clicked, and I realized that there was a purpose. It changed everything. I tore through this book in less than 48 hours. I won’t say much about it, because it’s all in the execution of a fairly simple plot.
President Abraham Lincoln has lost his son Willie to a sickness, and the Civil War is waging in the meantime. The night before the official funeral, Lincoln goes to the graveyard to visit his son’s body, and it is in this valley of despair that our novel takes place. It is a story of love and death and mortality, the fear of the great beyond, and the need to feel human.
George Saunders writes with incredible emotion, and it is poignant. His characters are varied and vivid, and you feel empathy for their respective plights (well, okay, maybe not all of them). The ending is quite an interesting surprise, for its implications of what happens later in the Lincoln presidency, and it makes me wonder what those of you who read it thought of it.
This book really did it for me in a way that I was not expecting. The relationship between Hans Vollmann and Roger Bevins III was really touching and tender. I was not prepared for that, either. I think it’s a worthwhile read, though if literary fiction is really not your bag, you might be annoyed by the conceit of the book.