Friday, May 19, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo (by George Saunders)*

Buzzy novel about the death of Willie Lincoln, his father’s grief, and a chorus of spirits in the graveyard where he is laid to rest. I listened to this on audiobook. I have to say the audiobook production is  spectacular. The main narrators are Saunders, David Sedaris, and the delightful Nick Offerman. I also recognized the voices of Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, Jeffery Tambor, and Rainn Wilson. But there is a cast of 166, both very famous and very not. Reminded me of The Graveyard Book, another chorus-of-spirits novel with an excellent audiobook. But of course, this is much darker and deals with more adult themes.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that the main characters are male: Abraham Lincoln and the three main spirits who narrate the story Mary Lincoln is barely touched on, and although some of the stories involve female spirits, and some of those are very good, most don’t; men are really central here, and by the end I came to find that that irritating. There is also an awkward ending where an African-American spirit kind of “influences” Lincoln to free the slaves or something? It felt like a concession to the fact that this book focuses on the sadz of Lincoln and the experiences of white men at the expense of a lot of other voices.

That said, it’s hard not to feel the sadz when the novel focuses on the grief of a losing a son, and the realization that the Civil War is leading to many more deaths of many other parents’ sons. That was quite powerful. But otherwise this novel felt discursive and unresolved. (Of course, death is always unresolved and that's part of the point. But I was really hoping to learn the Reverend’s ultimate fate, and more of the “rules” of the bardo.) Anyway, if I did star ratings, I'd give it three stars.

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