I'm also wondering what I will think when I've conquered 600 pages of Amor Towles' latest book, The Lincoln Highway, which starts out in Midwestern terrain I know better than Towles.
Not long ago I read Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel that takes place in the early decades of the 20th century when Russia was ablaze with revolution. The suffering and upheaval of that era was barely an afterthought in the book, which takes places in a grand Moscow Hotel, the Metropol, where an aristocratic "former person" has been sentenced to house arrest.
Count Alexander Rostov lives decades in this majestic edifice with its secret rooms and culinary delights, thoroughly adapting to his diminished circumstance by becoming head waiter in the hotel's elegant restaurant. Rostov is surrounded by friends, lovers and a talented daughter he never expected to have. He's a lover of literature and fine wines, a wise tactician who thoroughly outwits the revolutionists who think they've locked him up forever. In his experiences are lessons on making the most of what we have.
I read A Gentleman in Moscow before I knew much about Towles. He was a Wall Street research analyst with a zillion-dollar firm who always wanted to be a writer after majoring in English at Yale. He has plenty of experience in opulent settings; A Gentleman in Moscow came into focus for him when he was on a business trip in a swanky Russian hotel. (Could he have been advising oligarchs?)
Towles' life experience makes me wonder if he will pull off The Lincoln Highway, released in October. (I'm 100 pages in and not sold.) The book ostensibly is about a road with Lincoln's name (one of America's early transcontinental roads) and a 10-day journey by several fellows. (I prefer having women among a book's main characters.) Having grown up in Lincoln Land (Illinois) and lived a decade in Springfield — home to all things Abe, including his home and his tomb — I'm also a tad suspicious of slapping Lincoln's name on this book.
In The Lincoln Highway, I'm still in Nebraska (the characters are soon to head East), and thus far Towles' depiction of farmers and rural life seems cliche'-ish. We'll see what a writer accustomed to wealth does with the character of a farm-raised young fellow ready to start his life after being released from a Kansas penal farm.