Three And A Half Musketeers:
The new book by Amor Towles, after the bittersweet A Gentleman In Moscow (2016), is a wonderful reaffirmation of friendship and faith, in the form of a road trip. The Lincoln Highway, takes four boys on an adventure that makes for an engaging and exhilarating ride.
The story, set in the 1950s, takes place in just 10 days, but packs in a lifetime for growing-up for the characters. Eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is released from a juvenile detention facility, where he was sent for causing the death of another boy. In retaliation for relentless mocking and bullying by the nasty Jimmy Snyder, Emmett punched him, he stumbled, hit his head on a hard surface and died.
While Emmett is serving his sentence, his debt-ridden father passes away, and the bank decides on foreclosure of the Watson farm. The townsfolk goaded by the Snyder family are openly hostile towards Emmett. The only one who has been kind, is a neighbour, Sally, who has looked after Emmett’s little brother, Billy, when he was left alone. Emmett wants to fetch Billy and drive his precious red Studebaker to California, to find work as a carpenter. But the precocious—and possibly autistic—Billy, has found a bunch of postcards sent by their mother who had abandoned them. Looking at the postmarks, Billy is convinced that their mother travelled down the Lincoln Highway (that runs 3000 miles across the US) to New York and hopes to find her there.
Emmett’s well-laid plans are wrecked when he finds that two boys from the juvenile home stowed away in the car that brought Emmett home and have decided to join the brothers on their journey. The streetsmart Duchess and simpleminded Woolly (who has a connection with the writer’s earlier book, Rules Of Civility) have their own agenda and steal the car, leaving Emmett and Billy to follow them by getting on a freight car to New York.
On the way, they meet a crooked preacher, Pastor John, who has his eye on Billy’s collection of silver dollars, and a Black war veteran Ulysses, who helps the boys. Fed-up of slaving for her father, Sally also turns up to join them at some point.
The novel is densely plotted and told from different points of view; there are crises built up and solutions miraculously offered. The enjoyable part of it is eight-year-old Billy’s constant preparedness (his enormous backpack has everything he needs) and wisdom gleaned by multiple readings of his own personal bible (which he has read 24 times!), Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers. Billy’s meeting with the writer in the Empire State Building is one of the most memorable episodes in the book.
In the age before GPS and cell phones, routes are mapped, people magically connect at the right time, while readers hold their breaths over how last-minute rescues take place, and how seemingly insurmountable hurdles are jumped over. Built into the picaresque story-telling are little nuggets of history and Americana. It has the reader smiling as often as holding their breath as the tension of a sequence builds up. The Lincoln Highway is a tour de force of storytelling and is deservedly a best-seller. Like all good books, it also leaves the reader wanting more, and curious to know what happens to the Watson Brothers: Do they actually meet their mother in a crowded city? How do their lives proceed after such a crazy voyage of unpredictability? In the world according to Towles, anything is possible!
The Lincoln Highway
By Amor Towles