The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway: A Novel: Towles, Amor: 9780735222359: Amazon.com: Books

After being escorted home by the warden of Salina, the juvenile detention center where he has just served, Emmett arrived with a fairly clear plan for starting anew, for himself and his younger brother, Billy,  Since the premature death of their father, the only parent who’d been around for the past number of years, it was now up to Emmett to see to Billy’s care and he planned to take that responsibility very seriously.  He did not, however, anticipate that 9-year-old Billy would have an equally precise idea about what their future plan should entail.  Nor did he anticipate the complicated route on which they would find themselves traveling.  

There are many reasons that I am not an author, but Amor Towles is one of them.  Many authors intimidate me, with their uncanny ability to weave together intricate plot lines, such that they push the borders of one’s imagination.  Others are able to conjure sentences that are like pearls on a string, poetry within prose, at which I can only marvel. Towles is able to accomplish both, which is the gift he shared with us in A Gentleman in Moscow, and again shares with us here. 

And the characters are as multi-dimensional as the people we know in our lives.  Duchess, one of Emmett’s associates from Salina, is a profound and complex character, and this novel is every bit about his journey as it is Emmett’s. Duchess who is the consummate showman, is always polite and upbeat and outwardly generous, is inwardly broken.  We know not to trust him but we like him in spite of ourselves; we know he has a heart, but that heart has been fractured over and over and over.  He too is on a mission, and his is understandable but misguided.

I love that Billy —  the youngest, most idealistic, and the one guided by a book of heroes — is also the character in the story with the most common sense.  Billy is the one who sees through all the nonsense that the others struggle with.  While everyone else sees themselves as his protectors, Billy is actually the one who remains calm, keeps the most level head, and pays attention to the details that matter most.  We can all learn from Billy.

The writing, the characters, the journey – give this gift to yourself.  And be glad that Amor Towles is the author, and not me! 

A definite MUST-READ!  

 

 

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved: Toni Morrison: 9781400033416: Amazon.com: Books

Denver and Sethe have found a rhythm in their isolated existence..  Even while they are haunted by an occasional eerie noise or movement from the unexpected, and even as they mourn the loss of Baby Suggs, their mother/grandmother, they have figured out a way to work and live and get through the days.   It is only the arrival of Paul D who stirs up old trauma for Sethe, throwing her back into her past, forcing her to relive old horrors.  And it is very unclear if their unusual little family will be able to leave the past behind and move forward.  

Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer prize-winning Beloved, is beautiful, poetic, lofty, erratic, layered, and extremely hard to understand without guidance.   It is likely that repeated readings are necessary to glean the most meaning from the text  Because it was not set up as a traditional story might be, it was hard to get oriented to the characters, — who they were, where they were,  and how they were related to each other.  Once I did muddle through the first, maybe 10%,  of the book, however, I was then able to appreciate the book for all its magnificent power.  

There is a story here, but a non-linear one and one that mixes in much superstition, supernatural, and memory.  In truth, it is a lyrical platform in which to lament the horrors of enslavement, the way in which enslavement robs us of our humanity.  It is loosely based on a true story of a woman who, rather than allow her daughter to be captured and be enslaved, murdered her instead.   This  unthinkable act forces us to examine just how desperate a mother could be to choose death over a life of ownership by another individual.  To choose death rather than not having freedom to choose whom one may love and form attachment to.  To choose death over a life of being chained, both figuratively and literally.  

Most powerful for me were the sparks of memories of Paul D and of Sethe as they went about their day to day on “Sweet Home,” the plantation where they’d originally met.  Paul D harks back to a memory of overhearing an assessment of his monetary worth, as if one could place such a figure on a life.  At another moment, Sethe remembers overhearing Schoolteacher showing his pupils how to list Sethe’s human qualities on one side of a page and her animal qualities on the other, reducing her to only partly human.  There is physical brutality described as well, but I believe these more insidious crimes reveal more about how these individuals were perceived and how these perceptions seeped into their souls– even more so than the physical harm that befell them. 

I feel that I’ve gotten so much from having read this book.  If reading can impart some degree of empathy,  Sethe’s story is an important place to start.