Lincoln Highway magazine by Amor Towles – a love letter to the American road trip | fiction
IIt would be easy to be annoyed by the idea of Amor Towles. An investment banker whose first novel, Rules of civility, was released in 2011 to rave reviews and extraordinary sales, Towles quit his high paying day job and settled down to write an even bigger hit, 2016’s A gentleman in Moscow, inspired by “his experience of staying in luxury hotels”. This novel sold by the bucket – his first two books have now racked up over 4 million worldwide sales, have been translated into 30 languages and allow Towles to list his hobbies as “collecting fine art and antiques”. Maybe it’s understandable, I took her third novel, Lincoln Highway, with a hint of bad faith. The fact that I unwillingly enjoyed him is a tribute to Towles’ almost magical gift for storytelling, his ability to build a cast of characters that are at once flawed, lovable, and fascinating.
The novel opens in 1954 as 18-year-old Emmett Watson is led through the void of the Midwest by a prison guard. He was released on compassionate grounds after serving just over a year for hitting a boy who made fun of his sick father. His opponent had fallen against a sidewalk and was dead, and Emmett was sent to a juvenile reform program on a Kansas farm. Now he’s back, but with his father dead and the family farm seized by the bank, Emmett must figure out how to take care of himself and his precocious younger brother Billy.
Duchess and Woolly – two young men, the former strongly charismatic, the latter a “kind of tender soul” addicted to the unnamed “little pink pills” – saw Emmett’s departure from the reform program as an opportunity. As the Headmaster signed Emmett, they slipped into the back of his truck and now revealed themselves to Emmett and his brother. Emmett intends to go to California to try to find his long-lost mother, driving down the Lincoln Highway which passes near his farm in Nebraska. The Lincoln Highway is America’s oldest coast-to-coast highway: “It begins in Times Square in New York and ends three thousand three hundred and ninety miles from Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Rather than heading west, Emmett is persuaded by the Duchess to go east, upstate New York, where one of Woolly’s parents is said to have buried a fortune in the woods. .
In Lincoln Highway, Towles offers us what all the great road novels offer us: the panoramic sweep of meadows and hills, adventures that seem to spring from the landscape itself, the propulsive rhythm of the road. The novel is told through multiple perspectives and each is equally engaging and fully realized. It is as if the narrow palette of the previous novel – A gentleman in Moscow was the story of the fictional Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and his incarceration in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow – encouraged here an exuberant expansion, not only the vast American panoramas, but also the narrative, which wanders in tangents and leaps from one point of view to another. the next with vigorous agitation. It’s a novel that deals as much with the literary history of the American road as with the journey itself, and deserves a place alongside Kerouac, Steinbeck and Wolfe as the best of its kind.