Book: Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, Bloomsbury, 2017.

This one will be a little short. I can’t say I have that many thoughts on this. I’m reading right now as many books as I can that might resemble mine, as I try to publish.

Lincoln is definitely interesting as a concept. “Bardo” is evidently a sort of purgatory in the Tibetan tradition, though you wouldn’t know it from the text itself. It’s only mentioned in the blurb. In addition, the theology of the work is entirely Christian. The characters inhabit this purgatory in the cemetery in denial of the fact that they’re dead, but they frequently get taken up to be judged by a Christ figure and sent either to what are clearly Christian Heaven or Hell.

The format isn’t to my own taste but is interesting. The chapters are short and made up of a series of quotations, either from real works of history, memoir, or correspondence, or the fictionalized statements of characters in the cemetery where the story takes place. Most moving were actually the quotations. Saunders does a pretty beautiful job of selecting and editing them to make the account of Lincoln’s grief over his son very moving.

The three characters closest to “protagonists” would be Vollman, Bevins, and Reverend Thomas, none of whom stuck out to me too much. They have fun and creative backstories, especially Vollman, but I couldn’t say I felt all that compelled by any of them. The two Lincolns, Abraham and the dead Willie, are both compelling characters, but I could have used more of Willie. He’s there and there is this issue over his soul, but he never particularly develops a relationship with any of the other characters.

Not uninteresting. I would read more of Saunders.

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