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review 2017-12-03 01:47
Not "finished" so much as "done with."
Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel - George Saunders,David Sedaris,Nick Offerman

I got one and a half cds out of six listened to, took a break, and then spent a solid week avoiding going back to it. I listened to five or six episodes of The Lost Cat podcast, a couple of In Our Time, some Fresh Air, about an hour of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, and a couple shows on the CBC, and every time, I thought, "Oh, I should go back to that Saunders book," I shook my head and decided I needed to wash my hair.

 

This should be everything I want in a book: ghosts, Abraham Lincoln, Man Booker Prize winners, but in the end it just came off as unbearably pretentious.

 

There are entire chapters of one to two sentence primary source quotes describing the setting, one after the other, and okay, clearly it's a terribly clever stylistic choice, or something (I don't really get litfic a lot of the time), but it's hard to avoid the aura of "Hey, I did all this research let me show it to you!" without having done the work of actually integrating it.

 

The non-interminable quote chapters were... fine? I guess. It's mostly a bunch of ghost who for various reasons have refused to move on hanging out and watching Lincoln completely fail to deal with his dead kid. Apparently Lincoln's failure to deal is an epic amount of emotion never seen in a cemetery before. Which seems unlikely, but I guess Lincoln's just that much of a special snowflake! Even in mourning was he extraordinary.

 

There's not that much to say about the ghosts. One's an old dude who won't admit that he died because he was about to finally get laid. He keeps making poop jokes. One's an anachronistic Whitman joke who killed himself. One perpetually sexually assaults a female ghost. None of them had much of interest to add.

 

Maybe I quit too early, but I just feel like a graveyard full of ghosts haunting Abraham Lincoln should have a bit more going on. Anyway, life is too short.

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review 2017-12-01 19:36
LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Interesting way to look at death.  It took me 80 pages to get into the book then I enjoyed it.  I also had the wrong Lincoln, which did not help at the beginning.  I liked how the historical records were interwoven into the story with the ghosts.  I also liked how Vollmer and Blevins wanted what was best and right for Willie.  They were funny at times.  The three bachelors and their hats were comic relief.  I liked how we readers got to learn more about the cemetery inhabitants as they tell their stories in their own words.  Some are very quick.  Others linger.  Not what I expected but worth reading.

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review 2017-09-13 02:59
Review: Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is all about structure. It's sold as a novel, but if publishers could make money from the selling of scripts, you know it would've been sold as such. It alternates between snippets of “historical” quotations and dialogue. Some readers will find this clever. Others will find it distracting. Either way, it's the one thing most readers will likely first recall anytime they think about this story.

George Saunders' latest is also known for its huge cast of characters. Despite having a cast of hundreds, this is really the narrative of Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III. Reverend Thomas apparently had considerable “page time” as well, but I barely remember him as a character. Someone remind me, what was significant about Thomas? So Vollman and Bevins—that's where the bulk of the story is. Of course the story is in many ways about Abraham Lincoln.

Given its structure, the book has a rather fragmented feel, and this can require some adjusting for the reader. Eventually, I got used to it and it was fine. What bothered me, however, was why the dialogue of some characters was spoken by others. For instance, in one passage where Bevins, Vollman, and Thomas are present, Vollman says, “Strange here, he said. Not strange, said Mr. Bevins. … One gets used to it, said the Reverend. …” It goes on. That's all Vollman. This sort of exchange happens repeatedly. It really threw me and I could find no consistency as to why one character is speaking for another. In a story where dialogue is everything, why put words into the mouths of others? Unless what seems to be dialogue is not truly dialogue, but is merely the written word. So all these “ghosts” are collaborating on a book together? If so, it's a huge clusterfuck.

Honestly, I don't know exactly how I feel about this book days after finishing it. Initially, I sort of liked it, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am. There are interesting stories within the larger story. And I really liked the historical perspective. While some of the quotations are author-invented, they are mixed with enough factual quotes to paint a fairly accurate portrait of Lincoln and his presidency at the time of Willie's death. Opinions at the time were ones of both disdain and adoration. Not at all different from our modern political leanings, but it does give an entirely different perspective of the Lincoln presidency than most modern accounts. Also, in a book about dead people conversing, you'd think there might be more retrospection or insight to the afterlife. Instead, we have characters who pretty much are the same as they were when they were alive, all their defects on full display in complete ignorance.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a strong book in that it takes an original idea, shows ample research, and presents these in a way that is unique and certainly a selling point for some readers. It's also a book that's not going to work for everyone. I'm on the fence about it overall, though I do respect the effort.


Man Booker Prize 2017:
This one might go on to the shortlist. But I think it has as good of a chance of not going. I think it'll sort of depend on whether some of the titles I haven't gotten around to yet—particularly Reservoir 13 and Elmet—are stronger contenders. Even if it makes the shortlist, I'll be surprised if it takes the Prize.

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review 2017-08-14 05:07
Wow, I've Never Read Anything Like This
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Most amazing narration with 166 different people, stars, musicians, family. Their unique voices and characters make this a most unusual and fascinating story. I admit to being a bit lost in the beginning till the time line clicked in my head and I understood the voices POV. The characters kept referring to the sick boxes, I was so confused till, I got it and then everything clicked. Looking at life from the other side, it made me think.
Fascinating ghost story, filled with dramatic historical events, people along with a great cast of fictional charters to spice it up. I loved each one, each from a different time, each brought something from that time to the story. Some crude, some fearful, some so intense, all entertaining. Even the dialog was tailored to fit the time of the characters. Each in denial, each has a summit to pass. Young Willie Abraham Lincoln's son was just a small drop in the pond, the wave changing each life, or after life. Amazing.
What a movie this book would make.

The 166-person full cast features award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders’ family, friends, and members of his publishing team, including, in order of their appearance: 
 
Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN
David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III
Carrie Brownstein as ISABELLE PERKINS
George Saunders as THE REVEREND EVERLY THOMAS
Miranda July as MRS. ELIZABETH CRAWFORD
Lena Dunham as ELISE TRAYNOR
Ben Stiller as JACK MANDERS
Julianne Moore as JANE ELLIS
Susan Sarandon as MRS. ABIGAIL BLASS
Bradley Whitford as LT. CECIL STONE
Bill Hader as EDDIE BARON
Megan Mullally as BETSY BARON
Rainn Wilson as PERCIVAL “DASH” COLLIER
Jeff Tweedy as CAPTAIN WILLIAM PRINCE
Kat Dennings as MISS TAMARA DOOLITTLE
Jeffrey Tambor as PROFESSOR EDMUND BLOOMER
Mike O’Brien as LAWRENCE T. DECROIX
Keegan-Michael Key as ELSON FARWELL
Don Cheadle as THOMAS HAVENS
and
Patrick Wilson as STANLEY “PERFESSER” LIPPERT
with
Kirby Heyborne as WILLIE LINCOLN,
Mary Karr as MRS. ROSE MILLAND,
and Cassandra Campbell as Your Narrator

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text 2017-08-13 23:25
Reading progress update: I've read 85%.
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

The sick box, the denials, the confessions, sickly fascinating

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