When I was home for Christmas, I took the opportunity to extol to my mother the virtues of my local public library and its available online system for ebooks. I demonstrated by showing her my hold list and, as mothers are wont to do, she had comments on several of my selections. My mom is also a vociferous reader and I do greatly value her opinion, but when she described Lincoln In The Bardo as “weird”, she didn’t mean it in a good way and bless her but she was wrong. It’s weird in the best way.
Lincoln In The Bardo is a book about loss. About the acceptance or denial of it, how we process it, how we grieve, how we move on–or how we don’t. One year into the American Civil War, as both sides are being to realize this won’t be over quickly, President Abraham Lincoln unexpectedly loses his young son to illness. Not quite willing to let go, he visits the boy’s body in its tomb, where his comings and goings are marked not only by the groundskeeper, but by broad range of other, less concrete figures.
The act of discovery on the part of the reader was one of my favorite parts of this read. I borrowed the ebook on kindle and have heard several times that it is much better as a read than as a listen (ie, don’t get the audiobook). Saunders has tried something very different here and it is much easier to follow on the page. I really don’t want to go too much into details because it’s much better worked out on your own but I found this book to be just stunning. I loved it. It was kind of mysterious and more than a little bit wacky but also deep and moving and so so rich. I love books that toss you into the deep end and leave you to discover their world all on your own (which probably explains my love of genre fiction).
This is a book you can let simmer. Read two or three (short) chapters, reflect on them, and come back later. You won’t regret the journey.