I heard about this book on my beloved podcast, Literary Disco, as they gushed about Saunders, both in general as an acclaimed short form writer, and for this, his debut novel. It tells the real story of the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son Willie, but veers into the extraordinary as Willie is in a sort of limbo, surrounded by fantastical and verbose ghosts. He is visited by Lincoln in the graveyard, hence the title, and is struggling with whether to stay in this in between place, or move forward to the unknown.
I read this in audio format, and as an audiobook it is a revelation. With over 166 voice actors (!!!), it really comes alive unlike any other audiobook. (Fun fact: they started with many well known audiobook readers, but quickly realized they needed more people, so it became a sort of grassroots effort, where people got their friends/family to lend their voices, some characters had only one line). The cast was led with the intoxicating baritone of Nick Offerman and other celebrities such as Keegan Michael Key, Megan Mullally, and Susan Sarandon also lend their talents, as well as Saunders himself and another literary great, David Sedaris.
The audio style is reminiscent of a time when people used to gather around the radio to listen to a story, week by week. Also, there is the occasional usage of folk music and background sounds that add depth to the audio. Fair warning, as this book is incredibly well-researched there are many citations in the book, which if you were reading you might just skip over, but in audio means that there are often rapidfire narrative inserts of “Op Cit.” It didn’t bother me so much, but I tried to get my partner to listen to it that device was nails on a chalkboard to him.
This book is heartbreaking, hilarious, vulgar, and simply put, very very good. I am so glad to have come across it and I enthusiastically recommend it in any format, it is definitely my favorite book that I have read this year. I also will definitely be picking up some of Saunders short story collections.