Saturday, March 04, 2017
Lincoln In the Bardo
Backing up just a bit, the novel takes place over one night after the interment of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son, Willie, who died of typhoid. Willie is stuck in the transition from life to afterlife, and that's not a place most children end up. As our narrators make clear, "These young ones are not meant to tarry." Willie is surrounded by a cast of characters--and I do mean CHARACTERS--like Mr. Bevins (David Sedaris), a young suicide, and Mr. Vollman (Nick Offerman), a printer who was killed in a freak accident before consummating his marriage. All of the lingering spirits are perpetually focused on the things they were perpetually focused on in life. Whether they were victimized, obsessed, brutal, tortured, or aloof, they are much the same in death. But...worse. For the most part, they don't know they're dead...serious denial...but they do know that at some point, some of them go on. Somewhere.
There are a grand total of 166 readers in the audiobook production, and I was almost certain it would make my head spin, but that's where Saunders' attentions to form comes in. The narrative is fragmented in such a way that really worked for me. Some chapters unfold in a very traditional narrative and are told almost exclusively by Vollman, Bevins, the Reverend Thomas (George Saunders) Willie, President Lincoln, and others of the spirits. Other chapters are historical (actual historical and completely invented) snippets that tell of the night Willie died, what life was like in the White House, how the Lincolns reacted to their son's death, how the funeral unfolded, how Lincoln was perceived as a president, and lots more.
It was easy to sink into the rhythm of the book, and it was actually enjoyable to experience all the voices. It gave the story an expansive, blooming effect as each chapter added a bit more to the overall picture, and it felt weighty with history and emotion. And that ending. But I'm not telling you WHAT about that ending.
If you're on the fence, take the plunge. If you hadn't been interested until now, snap it up!