Friday Book Whimsy: The Lincoln Highway

Way back in 2018 B.C. (Before COVID), I read a book that I’ve never forgotten. It was called Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Read my book review here. It featured a quirky but brilliant child named Frank. I hesitated reading a book that featured a child as its main protagonist, but never regretted my decision.

I chose to read The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles, for a couple of reasons. First, I enjoy Towles’ writing. Second, I love the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway — which is state highway 30 most of the time — ran through the town in which I spent my formative years. The highway, in fact, runs from Times Square in New York City, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. While I haven’t driven all of the Lincoln Highway, I know parts of it are brick because I drove on bricks outside of Omaha, Nebraska.

What I didn’t know about The Lincoln Highway is that it would feature Billy, another precocious, funny, earnest kid as a main character. I would re-read the book simply for Billy.

In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson, is released from the juvenile work farm where he served time for manslaughter for killing another teenager. He is released early due to the death of his father, leaving his 8-year-old brother Billy alone as his mother had left the family years before. The work farm’s warden drives him to his home in central Nebraska, where Emmett is determined to gather Billy and a few of their things and leave Nebraska and all its memories for anywhere else. He’s thinking Texas, but when he tells Billy of his plans, the determined boy convinces his bigger brother to go to San Francisco, where he is sure their mother now lives.

Trouble, however, awaits, as unbeknownst to the warden, two of Emmett’s jailmates have hidden in the trunk and escape when the warden is dropping Emmett off at his home. Duchess is Nothing But Trouble With a Heart of Gold. Woolly, is the direct opposite — quiet, kind, and gentle. While Emmett and Bill plan to take the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco, Duchess and his friend Woolly steal the car and head the opposite direction, heading towards New York City. When he learns of the car theft, he and Billy head east, determined to find them.

The Lincoln Highway, much like The Gentleman from Moscow, a novel by the same author, is almost a series of vignettes about the adventures of these fellows, told from different points of view. Hopping trains, sleeping under the stars, and meeting all sorts of interesting characters along the way, the four make their way to the Big Apple. Among the few things that Billy was allowed to bring is a book of tales about famous adventurers such as Lewis and Clark. That book becomes a centerpiece of the story, and the reason I loved the character of Billy as much as I did.

Billy is adorable and despite his age, he is really the one that keeps the travelers in line. He is also the character that makes the story the most interesting.

I loved this book and recommend it strongly.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Gentleman in Moscow

Since its publication in 2016, and into 2017, A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, kept coming up as a book I MUST read. The best book of 2016, they said. One reviewer said A Gentleman in Moscow was her best book EVER.

After a long wait at the library, I finally got the book, and dove in. It’s not that I was disappointed; I just was a bit underwhelmed. Don’t hate me All of You Book Reviewers Who Loved This Novel. Just recognize that I’m not nearly as sophisticated as you.

Towles wrote a book called Rules of Civility published back in 2011. I read that book and liked it, but recall that it took me a very long time to get into the story. So when I found myself having trouble getting into this novel, I didn’t get discouraged. It helped that Towles’ writing is truly beautiful and elegant. It fit the story perfectly.

A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat from a long line of Russian aristocrats. The story begins in 1922, when Count Rostov is tried by a Bolshevik court for being an aristocrat. Communism, you see. He is placed under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel, a real-life historic hotel in Moscow. He must live out the rest of his days within the confines of this elegant hotel. He has pretty much the run of the hotel. He can eat in the dining room; he can get his hair cut at the fancy barber; he can drink cognac at the bar. He just can’t leave the hotel.

The years pass, and the count has a series of relationships that are funny and poignant and interesting. Of particular note is a close friendship he develops with a young girl who lives with her parents in the same hotel. She provides him with not only friendship, but with a quirky outlook that is welcome given the fact that he can’t even go outdoors.

The book is really a series of vignettes. The writing, as I stated above, is eloquent, and fits nicely with the beautiful art deco hotel and the roaring twenties. The book follows the count throughout the next few decades into the 1950s and the Cold War.

Really, nothing much happens. Perhaps I was just at a time in my life when I needed a bit more action. I really did like the author’s writing, and Count Rostov was a likeable character, but I simply found myself skimming a lot of the chapters. I also found myself wondering if the leaders of the Communist party, particularly that close to the overthrow and murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, would really have allowed an aristocrat like Count Rostov to live such an unfettered life. It just didn’t seem realistic to me.

I’m definitely in the minority, at least when it comes to the reviews I’ve read. The book has been highly regarded.

Recommended for those interested in beautiful writing and less interested in a fast-paced story.

Here is a link to the book.