“The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles (Viking)
Home is different for 18-year-old Emmett Watson when he returns from a juvenile prison sentence for accidentally killing a bully in a fistfight.
It’s the 1950s in Nebraska. Emmett’s father has died and the family farm was foreclosed on. Emmett is now the caretaker for his little brother, Billy.
What the brothers do have, aside from each other, is Emmett’s prize Studebaker and an envelope with $3,000 cash their father left.
So begins Amor Towles’ new novel, “The Lincoln Highway.” This is Towles’ third novel. He authored the celebrated “A Gentleman in Moscow” and “Rules of Civility.” Before Towles started writing, he worked as a financier.
The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway in the United States, crossing 13 states.
“It was invented in 1912 and was named for Abraham Lincoln and was the very first road to stretch from one end of America to another,” the book reads. “It starts in Times Square and it ends 3,390 miles away in Lincoln Park in San Francisco.”
But the highway is only a peripheral setting for Emmett’s story. Most of the book takes place in New York City.
Billy convinces Emmett to drive to San Francisco in hopes of finding their mother, who abandoned the family. The only word from her is a trail of postcards. Emmett agrees to the sojourn, but he’s surprised to learn two boys, friends from prison, had stowed away in the warden’s car.
Dutchess and Woolley brazenly steal the car and head to New York City. Once Emmett realizes his only possession was taken, he and Billy hop a freight train to New York. They meet a cast of characters competing for different interests.
The story is told through the perspectives of the different characters. If you like history and adventure, “The Lincoln Highway” might be for you. It’s nearly 600 pages but doesn’t feel overdrawn. The pace is fast and the writing concise, making it a digestible read whether in bed or at a loud coffee shop.