Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

This is a 21st-century version of Dante's Inferno centered around Abraham Lincoln as written by an author who made his name writing short stories, George Saunders. It would be fascinating if someone would take the time to compare and contrast the moral universe of Dante to that of George Saunders. There are huge differences but also some core similarities. Both Dante and Saunders are exquisite at describing human emotions; both are clearly writing about bodies as well as souls (Saunders gets downright bawdy); and both are trying to explain something about the nature of being alive. At the beginning of Lincoln in the Bardo, the narrative seems scattered -- this might be related to the fact that I was listening to an audiobook with literally hundreds of voice actors -- and yet near the end it coalesces into deep insights about grief and loss, and how those shaped Lincoln's actions during the Civil War. My favorite parts are the subtle echoes of his Second Inaugural Address that work their way into the thoughts. In a sense, this is a backstory for how that address came about, told as a graveyard fantasy. Not what I was expecting from Saunders's first full-length novel, but all the more impressive for that.

No comments: