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.
It´s my second read of this book and it is still as fun as I remember. The perfect novel when you just want to read something fastpaced, actionpacked and suspenseful and you don´t want to use a lot of brainpower on the words you are reading. And to all of you who don´t like gore: there is a lot of it in this book.
The science is incredibly wacky (genetics in the 90s), but I loved the setting of the museum and the great characters, especially excentric Agent Pendergast and goodhearted, down-to-earth Lieutenant D´Agosta.
I didn´t like the epilogue, though, because it felt completely out of place and it has only been included to hint at a continuation of the story. I could easily have done without the epilogue.
I´ve read this for the monster square and trust me, there is a monster. I´m just not telling you what kind it is.
What are the odds on finding affordable housing at the corner of Deckawoo Drive and Sesame Street? I really want to move to a place without racism or any of the other nasty hates that have been so apparent lately. A place where strangers are helpful, and the neighbors share in your good fortune.
DeCamillo makes me feel better about humanity and cheerful. Van Dusen's art is the perfect visual accompaniment. My Offspring are all grown up, but even they are delighted to see such a book arrive.
Go, spend a little time. I'm certain the air is sweet, even when Mercy Watson walks by. You can take a child with you, but you don't have to.
ARC provided by publisher through GoodReads giveaway. Because joy.