Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017)

L: 5.5/10

M: 6/10

Analysis from an unfocused conversation, going the intended direction:

Within the opening pages of Lincoln in the Bardo, after the initial confusion sets in and begins to fade like a ghost excepting his or her own inescapable fate, it is clear that this story is going to meander down the experimental path. Shared accounts of all the souls that come in between a young life taken too soon and the grieving father burdened with keeping the country afloat, smash together into one form, and tell a somewhat coherent story. I was often reminded of other stories that unfolded in this manner, a choose your own truth type of story. Unfortunately for me, the story was a little to piece together for me, difficult at times to even ascertain what was happening.

That being said, there were plenty of enjoyable moments in this stitched up tale. When Mr. Lincoln is present in the pages, he steals the spotlight and makes me want to pick up an autobiography on the president. His sadness is ripped into your hears with lines like, “… only imagine the pain of that… to drop one’s precious son into that some like some broken bird and be on your way.” The American Civil War wages in the background, but the president’s focus is solely on the unbearable grief he attempts to swallow. The ghost envy of the young boy is both funny and depressing at the same time, as their short time spent together ends with their true existence being brought to light.

The anguish doesn’t solely rest on the shoulders of Abraham Lincoln, though, as all the spirits that reside in the graveyard have there own brief histories added in. Their pasts mingle with the present and muddle the story at parts, which adds to the confusion of what is actually happening and who is actually narrating. Some of the ghosts had interesting stories to tell, but the majority I felt didn’t add anything to an already interesting story. Maybe if the main three spirits narrated the story alone, a more cohesive and coherent story could have been told.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a book I’ve had on my read pile for some time, and I’m glad to finally check it out. It will be hard to hand off to anyone, and I don’t feel like I’ll ever come back to it myself, but it will definitely lead me to check out more of Mr. Saunder’s repertoire. My overall impression of this book is somewhere in the in-between, and I’m alright with that.

Analysis from an over-stimulated adrenal gland:

I was headed for a cruise, boarded the plane, and could not wait to settle in and crack open this book. As we reached cruising altitudes and could unfasten our seat belts, I gleefully pulled out Lincoln in the Bardo, cracked the cover, and dug right in. It was about five minutes later, after having read the same page maybe 11 times that I said, “What the fuck?” loud enough to get side-eye from the person next to me and put the book up in exchange for a Jack and Coke and reading People magazine over my neighbor’s shoulder. Thus began my rocky relationship with this book.

It took several attempts to get into the story, and I sincerely did enjoy the message and the real meat of the tale George Saunders dreamed up. I even have a great appreciation for the unique way in which he shared the story. The random snippets of lines and conversations were cluttered at times and somewhat chaotic, but I enjoy the creativity of it all.

I really think that all of the relevant parts of this book would have equaled a compelling short story. The fluff and addition of unnecessary characters and random snippets of indulgent description made the book at times just exhausting to read. I will admit that there were times that I skimmed a page here or there because I knew the content had no relevance to the story.

In all, I appreciated what Mr. Saunders did here. I love the idea of the out of the box author. This particular book didn’t leave me wanting more of the story, but I indeed developed a taste for the author’s mentality. Perhaps the biggest take away is that I now feel oddly obsessed with Lincoln and plan to devour all the knowledge of him I can.

george saundersGeorge Saunders

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