Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
It has been an incredible week for reading and, I swear, there is a trend to the books coming out right now: Loss. Loss, loss, loss. But then, from that, humanity. And hope.
I would love to get the authors I have been reading lately (Saunders, Hamid, Kang, Donald) in the room together and ask them why this has been their message. Is it because it is something that we, the reader, can understand, because of its universal power? We run from loss because we fear it - The loss of loved ones, the loss of stability?
Beyond that, in the realm of what we do not know, it seems, as expressed by these writers, that there is something else: possibility.
Here the loss is portrayed in the many voices of ghosts from the decades leading up to 1862 when, to the graveyard enters Willie Lincoln, son of President Lincoln. True to the story we all know, President Lincoln lost a son in the midst of the civil war, experiencing close to home the devastation of a nation. His mourning was visible to all that witnessed it (and these witnesses certainly have a presence in the book), and yet the President remained responsible (and, thus, had to remain strong) for the American people, for the good and the freedom in which the Union was fighting.
Beyond the tale we all know is the one Saunders' creates in the graveyard purgatory between life and death, where some fight to deny death and the loss of the future they may have had and others slowly acquiesce to the matterlightblooming phenomena, which ultimately draws them over to the 'other side'.
I love and hate Saunders typically. I love his ideas and his writings, but I hate that I sometimes don't get them right away. This one, I got (and I understand what the Irish Times was saying here). It is a quick read, completed in one, long sitting. It is quick because it reads like a script, across many real and fake perspectives, where the narration lended is that of truth, and the majority pieces in between are untruth (as far as we know).
Quite true, there is no other novel out there like this, and it was a wonderful untruth of a novel, alighting, poetically, on that which we may never know for sure.
By the way, the book has a crazzzzy line-up of celebrities to read the parts for the audiobook. Check that out here.