I have been avoiding/suspect of this novel since it came out. I tried to read it and didn’t like it so I stopped. Then, I got the audiobook and also didn’t want to keep going. I realize now that the time I was trying to read it I was injured and in pain, so maybe that was a factor. Had it not won the Booker Prize and had I not found myself thinking I should finish all the Booker novels, well I might now be here.
I am still convinced it’s a great novel, or even a novel at all. But it IS a great audiobook, and that’s kind of a problem. The setup is that there’s a state dinner at the White House in the first year of the Civil War. It’s a dinner hesitatingly taken on because of the war, but notably because of the grave illness that the president’s son Willie is stricken with. The boy dies and goes to a kind of spiritual waiting room inhabited by a series of ethereal but distinctive, bickering voices who discuss all things heaven and earth about and with the boy. The novel splits this narrative into dozens and dozens of voices including the boy’s and Lincoln’s at times as the boy’s soul and his father’s grief are on display.
In addition, the novel also cobbles together dozens of conflicting historical accounts of the night in question that tells a non-consensus version of events, and highlight the subjective nature of history, writing, reality, and opinions on values and virtues. There’s an early disagreement on what kind of moon there was that night, and a later one on Lincoln’s eyes.
Like I said, the audiobook is everything. Tons of familiar audiobook readers (Kirby Heybourne, Scott Brick, Arthur Morey, Cassandra Campbell) are paired up with tons of well-known actors (Nick Offerman, [an inspired] Bradley Whitford, Megan Mulally) to read all the different voices in the book. It’s an event, but it’s not something I feel like I will return to.