Book Review: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

This epic story is mostly about eighteen-year-old Emmett and his eight-year-old brother Billie who set off on a road trip. I  say mostly because these two are the main characters from whom the rest pivot.

Go back in time to June 1954 when Emmett comes home having done his time at a juvenile work farm. His father, dead and his home sold by the bank, all he wants is to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billie, leave town in his beloved Studebaker and head to Texas where he figures there’ll be plenty of opportunity to use his skills as a builder for a growing population.

Billie, however has other ideas as he want to go to California to find their mother who abandoned him as a baby. Finding long lost postcards sent by her, Billie works out that the Lincoln Highway will get them there. Emmett agrees after realising the greater opportunity to build his wealth. What they both don’t figure on is Duchess and Woolly railroading their plans. Having escaped the juvenile work farm, Duchess via trickery and manipulation detour the brothers in the opposite direction to New York where Woolly is to retrieve his $150k inheritance which he is prepared to split.

What ensues is a series of disasters as well as a struggle for survival as Duchess and his erratic behaviour plunge the four into a course that is both comical and tense.

It’s a long book but an easy one to read taking us on a journey not just to New York but also into the minds of the various characters who are at times given their own point of view by the author. Mostly we see Emmett, Billie and Duchess but there are a host of other side characters who I’m not sure added much to the narrative. This is because it was part repetitive, part backstory and part meandering thoughts. Sometimes I enjoyed these asides but for the most part I thought it slowed the story down too much. I wanted to race ahead impatient to know what was to happen next.

Each boy is fundamentally good in their own way but through circumstance or a misguided view of the world have lost their place in it. Billie is the glue holding them all together and  is remarkably insightful for his young years, almost to the point of being scarcely believable. But I took the leap. Billie anchors them with a common sense that belies his years and is at times very touching.

It certainly is a hero’s journey in more ways than you realise, yet the twist in the end is heartbreaking. This one is certainly a memorable one. Check it out.

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