Following his hugely successful A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles made good again with The Lincoln Highway, a road novel whose events transpire over only 10 days in 1954.
Emmett Watson, 18, served time in a reformatory after accidentally killing a teenage bully. He is released early because he needs to take care of his 8-year-old brother, Billy, after their father dies and their Nebraska farm is foreclosed on. They are going to start over in California, where the last postcard from their mother, who abandoned the family, was mailed. But two other inmates of the reformatory turn up to waylay their plans, sending the Watsons eastbound before they can go west.
Duchess, a charming sociopath, steals Emmett’s car with the intention of capturing innocent Woolly’s inheritance from a safe on Woolly’s family’s estate in the Adirondacks. Emmett and Billy pursue Duchess and Woolly by rail and car. Fantastic adventures with colorful people along the way lead up to a surprising ending.
Towles alternates point of view, with each chapter focusing on one of the characters. Most of the book is in the third person, but Duchess and the Watsons’ neighbor Sally narrate their chapters.
Both comic and heartrending, The Lincoln Highway ranges over many themes, including personal responsibility, parental abdication, retribution, exploitation of innocents, the role of storytelling, and the American dream. Readers should not expect the Lincoln Highway itself to figure much in the story, however.
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