No, this is not A Gentleman in Moscow, but it doesn’t have to be. Present here is the cheerful fatalism of four main characters: Emmett, Billy, Wooly and Duchess, who have been through so many hard times that their emotional reactions to circumstances that our hypersensitive society would find traumatizing, they handle with a shrug and a large dose of philosophical acceptance. The spark of energy in this book is Billy, a wide-eyed eight-year-old who idolizes and depends on his brother, whose sentence at a work farm is shortened due to the death of their father.
The inner workings of the minds of these characters are revealed to us through their actions as well as their attitudes. I understood and even sympathized with all of them, even though Duchess in particular, made me want to scream at times.
The one thing that most readers will have to get over is the fact that Mr. Towles seems to be allergic to quotation marks. I found this disconcerting through the first few chapters of the book, but eventually got used to it. Is this some new literary style, or is it similar to e. e. cummings who just couldn’t be bothered to hit the shift key? Also, switching from third person to first person and one character’s point of view to another’s with not so much as a “by your leave” had me a bit off balance at first, but I also got used to that as well. I don’t know that either of these things enhanced the book in any way, but the story was engaging enough that I settled down and let the author take me for a ride.
And The Lincoln Highway will do just that, take you for a ride. It travels through the 1950’s, back to the 30’s and even to the mythology of ancient Greece. There are many truths about life, all our lives, in this book and that is something that makes a novel a work of art and allows the author to speak to all of us. If you can get past the literary acrobatics, I think you will find this book worthwhile.