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First Look Club: Clifford reviews The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

First Look Club: Clifford reviews The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles


By Amor Towles

Publication date: October 5, 2021

Reviewed by Clifford Jongko

If Duchess existed, I would have punched him in the face.

Let me back up a bit. The Lincoln Highway is a six-hundred-page novel written by A Gentleman In Moscow author Amor Towles. I never read summaries and blurbs, so I initially thought this was going to be a period-piece road trip novel, or perhaps a fictionalized account of how the titular highway is built. Instead, I was proven wrong upon reading the first few chapters: it’s heartwarming, it’s nostalgic, and it’s full of detours.

A Ten-Day Odyssey

Told in a span of ten days, The Lincoln Highway tells the story of eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson, who was just released from a year of servitude at a work farm (the juvenile detention centers of the time) after committing involuntary manslaughter. Coming home to his homestead in Nebraska didn’t improve things: his father died bankrupt, which left him nothing except the care of his well-read younger brother Billy and a blue Studebaker — the only piece property that wasn’t appropriated by the bank. The Watson brothers ultimately decided to head out west and start a new life. Sounds simple enough.

It wouldn’t be a story without having a spanner or two thrown in the works. Here, the proverbial spanners are Duchess and Woolly, Emmett’s co-detainees at the work farm who hitched a ride on the warden’s car trunk when he drove Emmett home. Duchess was like an agent of chaos who seemed to favor all the wrong turns, with Woolly the stoic sidekick who nevertheless had moments of brilliance. Together, they turned an otherwise simple plan into a ten-day odyssey that spanned railways, alleyways, and even a circus tent.

A Bag of Cats

So many stories have been set in the postwar American period that world-building leaves little to the imagination, but it gives greater emphasis on character development. I’m glad that the author kept the main cast to a handful and the narration to multiple points of view, giving the reader an almost 360-degree view of events occurring at the same time.

For example, take Duchess: his mind can be described as a bag of cats. He seemed to mean well, but he foiled everyone else’s plans at every turn, often with unpredictable results. At many points in the book, I truly wanted to punch him in the face had he existed — he’s easily the most infuriating fictional character I’ve ever read. Yet the chapters told in his perspective gave his chaos an internal logic, a method to his madness.

Unfinished Business

As good as The Lincoln Highway is, I have some misgivings about certain parts of it. A wandering former soldier named Ulysses, whom Billy met on one of his many detours, had an interesting story that, unfortunately, was cut short. Woolly had an interesting family history that wasn’t fully fleshed-out; I would not have minded another hundred or so pages that would have made his immediate family more than just plot devices. In this age of serial novels and shared universes, one can’t help but wonder if the author is setting up stories for spinoffs or sequels. If that’s the case, I’m all on board.

Not a Road Trip

Only a few pages were ever spent by Emmett and company traveling on the titular highway, which may be good if Kerouac isn’t your thing. The Lincoln Highway is, instead, an adventure that will take you from a small-town Nebraska to the dark recesses of 1950s New York City. It almost didn’t seem like a 600-plus page book, thanks to its well-paced story. And you know what? I’d love to read more about where the highway ultimately leads to.

Clifford is a content writer, musician, and caffeine fiend who co-hosts monthly comic book podcast Those Fcking Nerds (@thoseeffingnerds) on Facebook. As you can probably guess, he’s a big nerd. Clifford also posts book hauls, slipcase builds, and other stuff on Instagram (@tapsilogic). Follow him at your own peril.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

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