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The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

My daughter gave me The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles for Christmas. She often gives me a selection of books that she has read during the year. I love the chance to discuss books we have both read and exchange views with her.

The Blurb

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter.

With his mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett plans to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billy and head to California to start a new life.

But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have stowed away in the trunk of the warden's car. They have a very different plan for Emmett's future, one that will take the four of them on a fateful journey in the opposite direction - to New York City.

Bursting with life, charm, richly imagined settings and unforgettable characters, The Lincoln Highway is an extraordinary journey through 1950s America from the pen of a master storyteller.

The Review

I had no idea what to expect from The Lincoln Highway and certainly the first few pages didn't really grab me. However, the book was a gift from my daughter so I decided to trust her judgement and read on.

I enjoyed the characters and their interactions that the author created. The story begins in 1954 with 18 year old Emmett Watson being released early from a detention centre for involuntary manslaughter. He is released on compassionate grounds after the death of his father to care for his younger brother Billy.

Emmett and Billy plan to travel along the Lincoln Highway to California because Billy is keen to locate their mother, who abandoned the family years earlier. However, two of Emmett’s fellow inmates turn up at their farm with a different agenda. They are Duchess Hewitt who is a thief and Woolly Martin, a man addicted to prescription medicine.

The story takes place over one week and the four main characters narrate their story as they learn to live in the present, deal with the past and look forward to the future. The lives of the four guys become so entwined but all of them are taken on different journeys and in different directions that have some devastating consequences.

I do not want to ruin the story for others by including spoilers here. All I will say is that, although Emmett and Billy plan to travel to the West Coast of the USA but for various reasons they actually end up travelling east. Their journey is fraught with a succession of mishaps and pitfalls, but also several extraordinary encounters, and unusual characters.

Emmett is particularly finely drawn, and I liked his attitude to life and his sense of responsibility which was not what I expected from a teenager just released from a custodial sentence. He is determined never to place himself under a debt or obligation to anyone else again. Billy is clever beyond his years, but has a very literal approach to life. When Emmett and Billy are joined in their travels by Duchess and Woolly, the adventures begin.

All in all, The Lincoln Highway is a great story with interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading it very much. I highly recommend this book.

The Author

Amor Towles is the author of New York Times bestsellers Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. The two novels have collectively sold more than four million copies and have been translated into more than thirty languages. His new novel, The Lincoln Highway, was released on October 5, 2021.

His short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, and Vogue. Having worked as an investment professional for more than twenty years, Towles now devotes himself fulltime to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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