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Summary and book reviews of The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway

A Novel

by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles X
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
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  • Published:
    Oct 2021, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett's intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden's car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett's future, one that will take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction—to the City of New York.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles's third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

Emmett

June 12, 1954—The drive from Salina to Morgen was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn't said a word. For the first sixty miles or so, Warden Williams had made an effort at friendly conversation. He had told a few stories about his childhood back East and asked a few questions about Emmett's on the farm. But this was the last they'd be together, and Emmett didn't see much sense in going into all of that now. So when they crossed the border from Kansas into Nebraska and the warden turned on the radio, Emmett stared out the window at the prairie, keeping his thoughts to himself.

When they were five miles south of town, Emmett pointed through the windshield.

—You take that next right. It'll be the white house about four miles down the road.

The warden slowed his car and took the turn. They drove past the McKusker place, then the Andersens' with its matching pair of large red barns. A few minutes later they could see Emmett's house standing beside a small grove...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How do you think Emmett, Duchess, and Woolly's various upbringings—particularly their relationships to their parents—have shaped them? How have their parents' choices influenced their own desires and ambitions? When you were eighteen, which aspects of your parents' lives did you hope to emulate, and which did you hope to cast aside?
  2. Early in the novel, Emmett meets Sister Agnes, a nun who describes the faith of children who look upon a miracle "with awe and wonder, yes, but without disbelief." From the context, it's fairly clear that Sister Agnes is referencing Billy in her remark. How would you describe Billy's personality? While he is the youngest and least experienced character in the novel, one could argue that he has the...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Lincoln Highway features some fantastic characters. Precocious Billy steals every scene he appears in. Duchess is a delightfully flamboyant bounder, peppering his speech with malapropisms and Shakespeare quotes — he takes after his father, a roguish traveling actor who abandoned him at an orphanage. Woolly is a dozy, melancholy young man, described as being "not all there" or "away with the fairies." A danger with an episodic narrative like this one is that random events and encounters pile up but don't do much to further the plot. Despite the condensed timeframe here, it's a meandering story that can try one's patience. Other readers, no doubt, will appreciate the old-fashioned American road trip vibe. There is something appealing about the conjunction of bravery and mischief, and it's reassuring how the novel comes full circle and promises further adventures ahead...continued

Full Review (610 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

New York Times
At nearly 600 pages, "The Lincoln Highway" is remarkably brisk, remarkably buoyant...Towles has snipped off a minuscule strand of existence — 10 wayward days — and when we look through his lens we see that this brief interstice teems with stories, grand as legends.

NPR
[H]itch onto this delightful tour de force and you'll be pulled straight through to the end, helpless against the inventive exuberance of Towles' storytelling. Like his first two novels, The Lincoln Highway is elegantly constructed and compulsively readable...There's so much to enjoy in this generous novel packed with fantastic characters...and filled with digressions, magic tricks, sorry sagas, retributions, and the messy business of balancing accounts

BookPage (starred review)
Packed with drama...Towles' fans will be rewarded with many of the same pleasures they've come to expect from him: a multitude of stories told at a leisurely pace (the novel clocks in at 592 pages); numerous endearing and sometimes maddening characters; and pitch-perfect plotting with surprises at every turn...Towles has created another winning novel whose pages are destined to be turned—and occasionally tattered—by gratified readers.

Booklist (starred review)
[A] playfully thought-provoking novel...[Towles] juggles the pieces of his plot deftly, shifting from voice to voice, skirting sentimentality and quirkiness with a touch of wistful regret, and leading up to an ending that is bound to provoke discussion.

Los Angeles Times
[The] notion of American openness, of ever-fractalizing free will, coming up against the fickle realities of fate is the tension that powers Towles' exciting, entertaining...picaresque...Stories can bring us back to ourselves, Towles seems to say, if only we are open to receiving their power...Anyone who follows The Lincoln Highway will relish the trip.

Washington Post
[G]orgeously crafted...Examining the dynamics of race, class and gender, Towles draws a line between the social maladies of then and now, connecting the yearnings of his characters with our own volatile era. He does it with stylish, sophisticated storytelling. There's no need for fancy narrative tricks. The novel embraces the contradictions of our character with a skillful hand.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Towles's magnificent comic road novel follows the rowdy escapades of four boys in the 1950s and doubles as an old-fashioned narrative about farms, families, and accidental friendships...Towles is a supreme storyteller, and this one-of-a-kind kind of novel isn't to be missed.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016)...A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history. An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Author Blurb Tana French, author of The Searcher
An absolute beauty of a book. Every character is a gem, the many locations spring to vivid life, the book is an intricate and moving exploration of journeys and the infinite unexpected turns they can take—and somehow Towles makes it all seem effortless. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again.

Reader Reviews

Gabi

Another Towles “Must Read”
“The Lincoln Highway” is another beautifully written book from Amor Towles. Admittedly, I was initially unsure about the book but about one-third into it I was totally engaged in the four boys’ individual tellings of how the fascinating events of ...   Read More
Margot P

Experiment that fails
Three stars for clever dialog and some heartwarming characters. However the novel rambles on, contains lots of repetition and far too many preposterous situations. Even if I was not subconsciously comparing this to his other two great novels, it ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Studebaker and the Land Cruiser

Studebaker logo on green vehicle In The Lincoln Highway, the main characters undertake a would-be cross-country road trip in Emmett Watson's pride and joy, a 1948 powder-blue Studebaker Land Cruiser.

The Studebaker company, now known as a long-lasting and iconic automotive manufacturer, was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1852. The Studebaker family had emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia in the 1730s. Peter Studebaker made wagons in colonial Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was his grandsons — the five brothers Henry, Clement, John, Peter and Jacob — who set up the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. It initially produced other types of vehicles, like buggies, carriages, coaches and covered wagons; in 1902, it began producing automobiles.

...

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