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.