There are certain things you know you’re going to find when you sit down to read a George Saunders story. It will be weird, funny, engaging, and surprisingly deep. I expected no less from Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders’ first novel and I was not disappointed.
The book, which won the Man Booker Prize this year, uses a little-known but poignant episode from Abraham Lincoln’s life as a center around which to turn: Lincoln’s late night visit to a DC cemetery in the early part of the Civil War to visit the mausoleum where his young son, Willie, lies dead. From that point of connection with history, Saunders creates a universe of characters – ghosts who are watching and lamenting their own unresolved lives.
Lincoln is interesting, but it’s the ghosts who take center stage. They are the ones who, like the dead in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, carry, in exaggerated form, the distortions of their lives, waiting until they can accept the peace that awaits them. They cling to their past–not wanting to acknowledge their deaths, not wanting to let go of the ones they love, and not believing that the angels who visit can mean them anything but harm.
It’s haunting and beautiful and it’s my best read of 2017. Click the link on the title above for my full review.
And now, to recap the Best Reads of 2017:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
2. Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
3. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBIby David Grann
4. Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan
5. The Crucifixion:Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge
6. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
7. All the Pretty Horsesby Cormac McCarthy
8. American Fire: Love and Arson in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
9. Can You See Anything Now? by Katherine James
10. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Other great reads:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Cancer by Jason Micheli
All True Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Duane’s Depressed by Larry McMurtry
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Perhaps you’ll see in this Top Ten list the preoccupations of my reading life–what it means to inhabit a place, how it is that we live together and grow apart, and how a richer world inhabits this one. Here’s to your good reading in 2018!