by Amor Towles
Unlike the actual Lincoln Highway, which travels a somewhat straight line across the country, this story takes quite a few side roads and rabbit trails. I wasn’t even sure I liked it until all the stories intertwined in the tense, compelling, and satisfying conclusion. In fact, I think I might have been mistaken throughout about who the main protagonist was.
You might also notice that Towles takes some stylistic risks with unconventional dialogue construction and punctuation as well as having the chapter numbers decrease instead of increase. Ten, Nine, Eight… And what’s with all the characters having double letters in their names? Emmett. Billy. Sally. Duchess. Woolly. Ulysses. Significant or just another distraction?
Nevertheless, the author does give the reader clues about who we should be paying attention to.
“Xenos is a word from Ancient Greek that means foreigner and stranger, guest and friends. Or more simply, the Other. As Professor Abernathe says: Xenos is the one on the periphery in the unassuming garb whom you hardly notice. Throughout history, he appeared in many guises: as a watchman or attendant, a messenger or page, a shopkeeper, waiter, or vagabond. Though usually unnamed, for the most part unknown, and too often forgotten, Xenos always shows up at just the right time in just the right place in order to play his essential role in the course of events.”
If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll remember an unlikely hero or two who show up at just the right time and place, with just the right skills and knowledge.
With a title like The Lincoln Highway, I expected something of a travelogue along with a quest, but the action seemed to get stuck in reverse. Perhaps, however, the Lincoln Highway is a metaphor and maybe that’s the lesson. Sometimes you have to go backward before you can go forward.