By Dan De Neve
It has been said that everyone has one great book in them. Amor Towles, however, has at least three. His latest novel, The Lincoln Highway, follows Rules of Civility, and his wonderful A Gentleman in Moscow.
Set in 1954 Nebraska, The Lincoln Highway tracks two brothers, Emmett and Billy Watson, as they look to start new lives in California. Emmett has just been released from juvenile hall, having served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter. He is looking to move to California to start his own business refurbishing homes.
Billy is looking to locate the mother who ran out on them years earlier and may be in California. His only clues are postcards she sent the week after she left.
However, the brothers get rerouted in the wrong direction and find themselves heading to New York, when two friends appear after stowing away in the trunk of the warden’s car that brought Emmett home to Nebraska.
The story is told from several points of view by a cast of colorful characters over the course of 10 days. Along the way, we find out Emmett loses his car and the $3,000 he had in the trunk as his startup money for California.
Later on, he gets the car back, though with a new paint job and improved engine, all free of charge.
Billy is the bookworm. Sharp, smart, and innocent to the ways of the world, almost to a fault; he makes this book the gem that it is.
He is a character of charm, intelligence, inquisitiveness, and naivete that takes us back to a simpler, slower time in America. You can’t help but pull for Billy in trying to locate the mother he never had.
Duchess and Woolly are the stowaways. Duchess is always trying to do right and even out the scales. Woolly is trying to get back home to get to his trust of $150,000 that he wants to share with the other three.
Along the way, these two will make you laugh, mad, and, just maybe, cry.
Ulysses and Sally also come along for the ride, but in different ways.
Ulysses is a transient riding the trains. Eight years ago, he left his wife and newborn to fight in the war, despite his wife threatening to leave him if he did. After the war, she and the child were gone.
While riding a boxcar, he meets up with Billy and Emmett. Sally is Emmett and Billy’s neighbor. There is a certain tone that implies she likes Emmett, although he makes it clear on a few occasions that he is not interested.
This was a great read. The writing is easy, but flows smoothly and richly. Towles, as he has done twice before, tells a great story and develops the characters. You will care about them, for better or worse.
The Seaside Book Group at the Dana Point Library read it in August. The group meets on the fourth Monday of each month. For more information, call 949.496.5517.
Dan De Neve is a longtime employee of the Orange County Public Library. He currently works at the Dana Point Library as the Adult Services Librarian. He is an avid reader of history, biographies and sports.