‘The Lincoln Highway’ by Amor Towles – A High-Spirited Wild Ride from Nebraska to New York City

 

‘The Lincoln Highway’ by Amor Towles    (2021) – 576 pages

 

‘The Lincoln Highway’ is a rollicking road trip of a novel. We start out in the rural farmlands of Nebraska and wind up in the middle of New York City. The time is the 1950s. Elegantly written as all the novels of Amor Towles are, ‘The Lincoln Highway’ is superior entertainment, but is that enough for a 576 page novel?

In this novel, even the diversions have diversions, but in the end it wraps up to a magnificent whole.

We have the straight and upright young mid-westerner Emmett, his super-precocious little brother Billy, the brisk steady neighbor young lady Sally, the New York delinquent Duchess, and the guileless childlike dreamer Woolly.

The Lincoln Highway’ is a novel of asides, glorious asides. There is the story of Fitzy Fitzwilliams, who gains fame and fortune impersonating Walt Whitman and Santa Claus at society parties only to lose it all one night by performing as Karl Marx.

The story of Fitzy is certainly a sharp turn away from the main plot, but it is a fascinating story in itself.

There is a basic decency that some people have and other people do not have. In most of the tales here basic decency prevails against all odds.

The young troublemaker called Duchess (named after the county he was from) enters the hotel room where his father had previously stayed and encounters this decrepit guy who is currently staying there.

At the Sunshine Hotel, for every room there was a weakness, and for every weakness an artifact bearing witness. Like an empty bottle that had rolled under the bed, or a feathered deck of cards on the nightstand, or a bright pink kimono on a hook. Some evidence of that one desire so delectable , so insatiable that it overshadowed all others, eclipsing even the desires for a home, a family, or a sense of human dignity.”

Later as Duchess leaves the hotel room, he makes the following observation:

Ah, I thought, seeing the corner of the book poking out from the folds of his sheet, I should have known. The poor old chap, he suffers from the most dangerous addiction of all.”

Yes, reading, the most dangerous addiction of all. These sharp, witty and, yes, insightful lines alone were worth the price of admission to ‘The Lincoln Highway’.

But should you read ‘The Lincoln Highway’?

The novel is a superb yarn, but is that enough? When I read a novel this lengthy, I usually look for something more than a high-spirited story, something with more depth and something that will change my attitude or worldview. There are a couple of not-so-recent long novels on my to-be-read list that I expect would do just that.

However, if you have not read any Amor Towles novels yet, you are missing out.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

15 responses to this post.

  1. I adored this book, just loved the ride and the adventures they all have. Love your comment about the ‘asides’ – well put.

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  2. I’ve only read Rules of Civility by Towles and I loved it. I think I will save this one for over the Christmas holidays!

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  3. Hi Tony — enjoyed the review. I’m afraid I’m in a minority regarding Amor Towles, although I acknowledge my opinion probably isn’t worth much since Rules of Civility is the only one of his books that I’ve read. I did indeed enjoy it; the story was interesting and the writing very skillful but . . . I just found myself thinking that it was a bit ersatz, if that makes any sense. Probably just a case of grumpy old me! I probably will try him again, sometime in the future, but I must admit that Lincoln Highway doesn’t quite appeal, despite your excellent review!

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    • Hi Janakay,
      I just looked up “ersatz” – “being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation”. I believe in your case, you probably would prefer ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ to ‘The Lincoln Highway’. If you are on the fence, I wouldn’t recommend a 576-page novel anyway.

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      • Unless Towles turns out another novel before I’m ready to try again, it will definitely be A Gentleman in Moscow rather than Lincoln Highway! As for The Rules of Civility, although I enjoyed it, I found myself thinking that F. Scott Fitzgerald did that kind of thing much better; that there was something (of course, I couldn’t quite say what) artificial or anachronistic about Towles’ characters and situations. Hence, the “ersatz!”

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        • Interesting. For whatever reason, I really liked Fitzgerald’s ‘This Side of Paradise’ but wasn’t all that taken with ‘The Great Gatsby’. I’ve read ‘The Great Gatsby’ twice, and still don’t understand why it is considered so great. It is a good comparison though, Fitzgerald vs. Amor Towles.

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  4. One to file away for a bit of light holiday reading?

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  5. I’ve not read any Amor Towles but I have all his books, including this one, as they have been sent to me for review and I keep thinking I’ll save them up for a rainy day. Lol. Is there one you think I should start with?

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