The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: A review

 

Amor Towles' latest features two young brothers, an older teenager and a pre-teen, who set out from Nebraska to go to San Francisco where the younger brother has hopes of finding their mother who left them years earlier. Their father has recently died and their home, a farm, is being foreclosed by the bank which holds the mortgage. They have to go somewhere and San Francisco seems like a good option.

It is June 1954 and eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson has just been driven home by the warden of the work farm where he was sentenced after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. His sentence has been reduced because of his father's death and the fact that his eight-year-old brother, Billy, has no other family to care for him. Emmett has a 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser that he had bought with wages earned as a carpenter before being sentenced. His plan was to take his brother and head to Texas where he thought there would be work for a carpenter and he could support the two of them. Billy, though, is dead set on California and after some research at the library, Emmett decides that there's work for carpenters in California as well, so San Francisco, here they come!

Well, not quite.

Before they can hit the road on the Lincoln Highway, two of Emmett's friends from the work farm, Duchess and Woolly, show up, having hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden's car. They have escaped and now Duchess has a plan to get Emmett to take them to New York where Woolly, who is estranged from his wealthy family, will be able to access money left to him by his grandfather. Woolly is an innocent with a good heart and some undefined psychological problem for which he takes medication. Duchess is a user of people and I disliked him from his first "Ta-da!" I never changed that opinion even after I learned some of his sad history. Emmett is not interested in going to New York. He's ready to head west.

Unable to persuade Emmett, Duchess steals ("borrows") his car, and he and Woolly head to New York, stranding Emmett and Billy. Naturally, all the money they had was in the trunk of the car, so they are left with no money and no transportation. They manage to hop a freight train and head to New York to find Duchess and Woolly and the car.  Easy peasy, right? That was just one of the things about the book's plot that stretched my credulity.

Emmett and Billy are fortunate in finding friendly people along the way who help them out. After they leave, Sally, the young woman who had cared for Billy before Emmett was released, decided that she would drive to New York to find Billy and Emmett, and of course, she does, and of course, they do get the money (of Woolly's) that Duchess had promised. But there are a couple of tragedies that happen before the two brothers can finally head west on the Lincoln Highway. 

I loved Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow and I dearly wanted to love this one, too, but I just couldn't. I can't really explain why but it never really "grabbed" me. The story was told from five different viewpoints, Emmett's, Billy's, Sally's, Duchess's, and Woolly's, which gave it a somewhat unfocused feel. It was a bit long, I felt, and could have used a stricter editor. The story seemed repetitive and it got rather tiresome for me. I started with a lot of empathy for the brothers, for young Billy particularly, but as the plot advanced, his constant perkiness just began to irritate me. It's certainly not a bad book, and I know many readers have really liked it, and I guess I liked it well enough but just not as much as I was expecting to.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



    

Comments

  1. this sounds a bit confusing, but i gather he's a pretty good writer... Wiki says he has a masters in English Lit from Stanford...

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    1. He is a good writer. In this case, I think he just needed a better editor. (I speak as the wife of an editor, of course!)

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  2. Wow, five points of view would bug me I think. I think I'll stick to reading A Gentleman in Moscow first.

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  3. Oh, oh...I just bought this one last week and it's a long one. I hope I have better luck with it than you had, but yours is not the first rather negative review of the book I've read in the last few days. I probably won't read it until sometime in the first quarter of 2022.

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    1. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and initially rated it four stars, but the more I thought about it, the more certain things about it annoyed me and I ended up reducing the rating. I hope you like it better than I did. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on it next year.

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  4. Oh, I'm sorry you weren't as taken with this one as I was. I liked the characters a lot, just as I liked the central character of Gentleman in Moscow.

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    1. I initially liked the brothers until they began to irritate me and I had a lot of sympathy for Woolly. I wanted him to be happy. But Duchess, no. I disliked him from the get-go.

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  5. A Gentleman in Moscow is one of my favorite books, but I'm not sure I even want to read this one. The plot just doesn't appeal to me.

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    1. I thought it appealed to me, but after reading, I was just the tiniest bit disappointed.

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  6. Oh no, I so respect your opinion - sorry it wasn't a winner. I rarely buy a hardcover but, I purchased this one and was hoping to start it after Thanksgiving. Have a nice Thanksgiving Dorothy.

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    1. Don't let my review discourage you. Many readers have loved the book. Perhaps you will, too. And a happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

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  7. I've been seeing this book all over the place, and I was tempted, but your review has tempered my enthusiasm. You mention several things that not only irritate you, but they also irritate me. With the stacks of books around me waiting to be read, I think I'm going to give this one a miss. Thanks for your review.

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    1. You are welcome, although I always regret if I discourage anyone from reading a particular book. Reading is such a personal thing and often things that other people love I hate and vice versa.

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