Book Review – The Lincoln Highway

For many days after reading Book Review 26/50 – A Gentleman in Moscow I would keep seeing the room where the Count Rostov lived. That’s how impactful the book was. In the same way, I can see several scenes clearly from the Lincoln highway …

Amor Towles has come up with yet another unputdownable book.

The book starts with Emmett coming home from the correction home at Salina. Just wanting to wind things up in Morgen and leave with his brother Billy to create a new life for them. Unknown to him, two of his friends from the correctional home escape in the warden’s car and reach Morgen with him.

The rest of the novel is about the why and how of Emmett, Woolly and Duchess getting to Salina and the plans they have for their future. Three distinct characters and Emmett’s brother Billy providing a fantastic backdrop on which their lives could be staged.

From how anger can accidentally land one in a correctional home, to a vile man stealing and putting the blame on his son to an uber rich kid just meandering through life – The Lincoln Highway explores all the human emotions.

I loved the first person accounts by each of the characters because it gives you an insight into how the others think of them and how they view the incident. For instance Duchess’ sense of fairness in keeping accounts of how he spends Emmett’s money but feeling no sense of wrong in leaving Emmett and Billy stranded without their car.

Billy’s insistence on finding their mother, his big red book about heroes by Prof Abernathe and his collection of silver dollars, all contribute to the storyline and provide a great backdrop.

The English language is used beautifully by the author. See this excerpt “That summer, my father was part of a traveling revue claiming to raise money for the war effort. Though the show was billed as The Greats of Vaudeville, it might just as well have been called The Cavalcade of Has-Beens.” The cavalcade of has-beens!!!

Another statement that sums up the character of Pastor John who tries to rob Billy in the box car “In that man’s heart, said Ulysses, sliding the door shut, there is more treachery than preachery.”

Also a lot of good advice, like in this excerpt “What wisdom the Lord does not see fit to endow us with at birth, He provides through the gift of experience.” A practical thought, as in this excerpt “You could almost hear the thumb of reality beginning to press down on that spot in the soul from which youthful enthusiasm springs.”

I learnt about the Lincoln Highway – conceived by Mr. Carl G Fisher in 1912 and named after Abraham Lincoln. The highway stretches from Times Square, New York City to the Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco. Hopefully someday we get to drive along this route, coast to coast.

A summary of The Lincoln Highway

The book is about the adventures that befall two young brothers, Emmett and Billy. Emmett is sent to a correction home as he accidentally kills a man in a fit of anger. As he reaches back home after serving time, two of his friends, Woolly and Duchess show up at his door, having escaped the home. Duchess wants to go to Woolly’s New York home as there is a “grant” of $150,000 left for Woolly by his grandfather.

After much convincing Emmett agrees to take Woolly and Duchess as far as Omaha before going on the Lincoln highway to San Francisco. Duchess steals Emmett’s Studebaker along the way and the money that his father had left for him. The rest of the story is how Emmett and Billy reach New York and find Woolly and Duchess.

The story is spread over ten days and in that time, Woolly dies by suicide and Billy figures out the safe’s code and confirms that the money is there. Emmett finally does commit a murder of sorts when he leaves Duchess stranded in the water…

In all this Sally is forgotten. She has some powerful lines in the book but overall her contribution to the story moving forward is not much. In fact Ulysses, the African American train rider has a larger role as he saves Billy and his collection of Silver dollars from Pastor John.

Every character during this 10 day journey has a lot of self-discovery and self awareness which is beautifully articulated.

Do read the book. It’s riveting and a story that will stay with you, especially if you are a traveler.

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