Maybe after years in the newspaper biz I need titles and headlines to tell me what’s to come. So I was disappointed that in Amor Towles’ latest novel, The Lincoln Highway, the cross-continental road named for the 16th president from my home state was an afterthought.
I had a bit of trouble with characters. An eight-year-old named Billy who provides the intellectual underpinning for the book? A fast-talking New York teen called Duchess who uses words like “deign” and “visage” but can’t read?
And then there’s Towles’ punctuation: Instead of quotation marks, passages with utterances begin with M-dashes (—), an unending source of irritation. That said, I consider The Lincoln Highway — all 576 pages of it — worth reading. Especially if you have plenty of time.
No, it’s not as good as Towles’ previous novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, the kind of book holds its place on the nightstand long after its finished.
Lincoln was No. 4 this week on the New York Times (hardcover) bestseller list, which might or might not tell you something. (I give Towles credit for sending buyers on his website to Indie bookstores).
A bit of what goes on: It’s 1954 and 18-year-old Emmett Watson heads home to Nebraska after being released from a work farm. His father has died and the family farm has been foreclosed, leaving Emmett and little brother Billy to fend for themselves.
The plan is to head to California in Emmett’s Studebaker to find their mother, who disappeared eight year earlier. Things change when Duchess and Woolly, fellow teens from New York with heaps of issues, hijack the plot — and the Studebaker — sending the action eastward.
And assortment characters — actors, prostitutes, an evil minister and a heroic Black fellow named Ulysses — take the stage. The book proceeds to a fairly dark ending in upstate New York.