Monday, December 13, 2021

Amor Towles - The Lincoln Highway

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.
Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

Comment: This book is the most recent work by Amor Towles, an author who has said he takes years to write a book, so after this title, the next one will probably only come out around 2025 or something. I liked the other two books he published and I would read this one anyway but it was nice I managed to set up a buddy reading with a friend...

The premise of this book was great, regarding Emmett, an 18 year old just coming out of correction and how everything point out he and his younger brother Billy will leave Nebraska to start life somewhere else. The year is 1954 and the Lincoln Highway is a train route linking New York to California and Billy wants to follow that route because he dreams they will find the mother who abandoned them in San Francisco. As Emmett reflects on everything that need to be done the night before they scheduled their leaving, he is surprised by two fellow"inmates", who have decided to surprise him. Will their journey have any success after all?

The suggestion this book would be about a road trip between recently out of prison (sort of) Emmett and is kid brother was too good to pass, even if the author weren't someone whose previous books dazzled me in their own way. I started picturing scenes in my head about how this would be a classic road trip where, as they would go further towards their destiny, they would make their bond stronger and mainly Emmett would certainly evolve emotionally, especially since he seemed to be a character with a strong moral compass.

The first chapter was a thing of beauty and all elements seemed to make sense, the writing as gorgeous as I expected, the tone of the story, the vibe of the 50s in every detail, the apparently simple but deep characterizations, the idea of this story alone completely captivated me. I was more than ready to be wowed and to see how the author would turn this into something as special as I thought the other books by him to be, perhaps this would be a gentle but emotional storytelling narrative like A Gentleman in Moscow, or a clever and unpredictable study of human behavior like Rules of Civility.

As soon as that first chapter ends, though, I immediately became scared all my imagination would not even come close because, sadly, from then on, the plot took on a path I still think wasn't the best choice and for me personally, didn't work out. You see, instead of a cute - maybe poignant - story, the author decided to introduce two more key characters, Duchess and Woolly, at that moment and the surprise Emmett has when they show up was as disappointing as mine and I wish it weren't so.

From chapter two and on, the story is all about the adventures these four have and all the miscommunication that eventually sets in as they all get mixed up in each others' issues. We also have the POVs of pretty much everyone one way or another, which makes for a very distracting effort - and an annoying one, as I only liked Emmett's voice - and not being enough to have such a confusion of characters and goals and personalities, the author also decided the road trip wouldn't really be the main event of this story.

Until the end, several situations happen which aren't always obvious as moral lessons or hidden twists so that the whole thing could be seen as a necessary evil, for our heroes to have better odds in the rest of their lives (although one could see this, maybe...?) and I confess I struggled to keep reading. I probably only did it because it was a buddy read, because sadly, I lost interest even in Emmett, at some point.

I suppose one could say the beauty of this is in how the author mixed up his power of writing (some passages are indeed brilliant) with characters who aren't perfect but are unique. After the first chapter, I didn't sympathize with any and as I turned the last page, even less so. Throughout the book, more characters are presented, they interact with the main ones and they work as a counterpart to many things but I don't think the way they showed up and their role was as important as we are led to believe because from that, nothing truly special happens. Not even the end has any kind of closure on why those characters had to be part of the story.

Some readers probably will like the end, as if it were predestined everything had to go that route but I would have preferred the plot to a simple journey of self discovery while the brothers would be in their physical car journey, following the train route. That was the idea I convinced myself I would have and while that be my mistake, so why should I have created any expectations in that regard in the first place, but the truth is that I feel sad I didn't enjoy what the author wrote instead.
Grade: 5/10

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