Posts Tagged ‘Amor Towles’

‘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

 

 

‘The Lincoln Highway’ – The Reasons that I Chose to read Amor Towles’ New Novel Now

 

There are more than several lengthy new novels out this Fall which I want to read. Of these, I first chose to read ‘The Lincoln Highway’ (576 pages). Why?

The decision was not a difficult one. I had been grandly entertained by both of Towles’ previous novels, ‘The Rules of Civility’ and ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. Here are just a couple of lines from my earlier reviews of these novels:

How long has it been since you have read a smart stylish elegant novel? If you are interested, “Rules of Civility” is the ticket.”

However it is in the intriguing and warm interactions between characters where Towles excels. ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ casts a likable alluring spell like no other novel I have ever read.“

After now reading two novels by Amor Towles I have come to the conclusion that he is a great literary stylist on the order of Vladimir Nabokov. A literary stylist knows that it is not our final destination that matters but the pleasures we have along the way.”

Excuse me for quoting myself.

Basically Amor Towles is fun to read at the sentence level. He makes whatever he is writing about intrinsically interesting in a steady, clear manner that is rare today. There is a certain exuberant verve in his writing that is catching. I believe one of the reasons for Towles’ mastery of fiction writing is that he did not publish his first novel until he was 47 years old. He had many years to hone his skills before publishing, and thus did not develop any bad habits that were praised by the reviewers anyway.

Each of his novels is a departure and an arrival at another vastly different location. ‘Rules of Civility’ is his New York City novel in the 1930s. ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ all takes place in a single hotel in Moscow, Russia. ‘The Lincoln Highway’ focuses on two brothers, eighteen and eight, who leave their family farm in rural Nebraska during the early 1950s. It’s a wild road trip novel.

As you can guess, I have already been captivated by ‘The Lincoln Highway’, and I am reading it rapidly. It is a quick read since so much of it is dialogue and crystal clear exposition.

Since I am only about halfway through ‘The Lincoln Highway’ so far, I will not be posting my final review for a week or so. In the meantime I will be posting reviews of a couple, not quite so lengthy or expansive, fictions.

 

 

 

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles– In Praise of the Literary Stylist

 

A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles    (2016) – 462 pages

 

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After now reading two novels by Amor Towles I have come to the conclusion that he is a great literary stylist on the order of Vladimir Nabokov.  A literary stylist knows that it is not our final destination that matters but the pleasures we have along the way. A stylist can go on and describe a game of Hide the Thimble for several pages, and we will not complain; in fact we will be charmed.

“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.” 

The year is 1922. Count Rostov is an unrepentant aristocrat in Moscow even though now the Communists are in charge in Russia. This usually meant being “put up against a wall”, but instead the authorities restrict Count Rostov to the Metropol, a showcase hotel for foreign dignitaries visiting Moscow.  He becomes a head waiter in the hotel, a position for which he is well suited.  He cannot leave the hotel.  He is reassigned to a small room at the hotel.

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ tracks the Count’s entire stay at the hotel from 1922 all the way up to 1952.  He is a part of a triumvirate which also includes the chef Emile and the maître d’hôtel Andrey who keep the hotel and restaurant running smoothly. One might assume that things would get claustrophobic being restricted to a hotel, but one would be wrong.  The Count’s days are filled with elegance and delight.  Famous actresses and authors and diplomats stay at the hotel.  The Count becomes friends with the young Nina, and later she drops off her daughter Sofia at the hotel for him to bring up which he somehow manages admirably.

Sometimes the bureaucrats intrude upon the hotel.  In the Metropol’s wine cellar, “was assembled a staggering collection of Cabernets and Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Syrahs, ports and Madieras – a century of vintages from across the continent of Europe. “  A complaint was filed that this fine wine list ran counter to the ideals of the Revolution.  The Commissar of Food then forced the hotel to remove all of the identifying labels from every bottle of wine, and from then on the hotel could only distinguish red wine from white wine with every bottle sold at a single price.

“Yes, a bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place; a poetic expression of individuality itself.  Yet here it was, cast back into the sea of anonymity, that realm of averages and unknowns.” 

The entire novel is written with a distinctive Old World charm.   Amor Towles is a sensuous stylist who doesn’t waste his skills on something as mundane as sex but uses them instead to describe a spectacular food dish or a unique bottle of wine.  However it is in the intriguing and warm interactions between characters where Towles excels.

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ casts a likable alluring spell like no other novel I have ever read.

 

Grade:   A

 

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