The Lincoln Highway: A Novel

by Amor Towles

Hardcover, 2021

Call number



Viking (2021), Edition: 1st Edition, 592 pages


"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"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member weird_O
The title says it—The Lincoln Highway. It was the first coast-to-coast route in America, named for the president who led the fight to keep the nation united, stretching from New York's Times Square to San Francisco's Lincoln Park. Driving across the country was an epic adventure when the highway
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was built in the teens and twenties. By the early 1950s, the time of Amor Towles' book titled for the route, the tour was not as epic, but nevertheless it was an adventure.

The Lincoln Highway, the book, is a "road novel", a quintessentially 20th-century American form, the essence of which is exploration and adventure. The youngest of Towles' adventurers totes the guidebook, refers to it often, and shares its information with anyone who'll listen. Professor Abacus Abernathe' Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers has 26 chapters extolling the accomplishments of 25 adventurous travelers, real and imagined. Among its exemplars are Achilles, Galileo, Hercules, Ishmael, Jason, Lincoln, Sinbad, and Ulysses. (The 26th chapter, titled You, is for the reader to write his or her own story.)

The journey on the Lincoln Highway will begin in Morgen, Nebraska, and carry two brothers west to either Texas or California. The pair, 18-year-old Emmett Watson and 8-year-old Billy, are leaving their home following their father's death and the bank's foreclosure on the house and farm. (Their mother abandoned the family years earlier, fleeing west along the same route, all the way to San Francisco.) Their transport will be Emmett's blue 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser, which was stored in the barn while it's owner was serving time in a juvenile detention facility in Kansas. Emmett, taunted by a bully, punched him out, and when the bully fell, he hit his head on a cement block and died. Charged with involuntary manslaughter, Emmett ended up incarcerated, but has been released early, driven across two states by the warden to his home.

As the brothers check out the Studie one last time, two figures greet them from the Barn doorway. Uh oh. The two are fellow inmates who stowed away in the trunk of the warden's car. They—Duchess and Woolly— are looking for transportation to New York, and they can see Emmett has got it. Duchess and Woolly are hopeful, optimistic. Emmett is infuriated. He does agree to shuttle them east to Omaha's train station. Then…

—You mean the Studebacker?
 Emmett was standing alone in Sister Agnes's office talking to Sally on the phone.
—Yes, he said. The Studebaker.
—And Duchess took it?
 There was silence on the other end of the line.
—I don't understand, she said. Took it where?
—To New York.
—New York, New York?
—Yes. New York, New York.
—And you're in Lewis.
—I thought you were going to California. Why are you nearly in Lewis? And why is Duchess on his way to New York?

Here's why. Woolly's given name is Wallace Wolcott Martin. He's the scion of an old-money family with a home on the upper east side of Manhattan as well as a property in the Adirondacks, to which they retire in the summer months. They call it a "camp" though it isn't a clearing in a forest with a campfire site surrounded by spots where tents are set up. Rather, it is a mansion with "rustic"—wink wink—decor. Great-grandfather's office there has a sturdy wall safe, wherein $150,000 in cash is stacked, and Woolly perceives it to be his inheritance. He plans to split the cash evenly amongst himself, his friend Duchess, and the guy with the car who'll drive them to the camp (from Nebraska), Emmett.

With the appearance of Duchess, the story's rich seam of the picaresque is exposed. Duchess is a rogue, but appealing adventurer if ever there was one in a novel. He checks most of the boxes on the list of a picaresque character's traits.
  • He's of low social class, but can be very charming and gets by on his wits.
  • He narrates "his" chapters.
  • To him, the trip is just a series of adventures.
  • His character isn't altered in the narrative's course; he ends as he began.
  • As he sees himself, criminality isn't in him. Yes, he's a rascal, but a carefree, sympathetic rascal.

Read this book. It is long and rambling and tangled with digressions. The characters are many: endearing, inspiring, annoying, self-centered, provoking, duplicitous. Most have stories to tell, and they tell them. It's a road trip, gosh darn it.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I was enchanted by this novel, not least by the way it so comprehensively dodges any attempt to consign it to a particular genre. Set in June 1954 it follows brothers Emmett and Billy Watson who plan to leave their home in Nebraska, and travel along the Lincoln Highway, America’s first
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transcontinental highway, to San Francisco, where they hope to start a new life.

Their old life has certainly featured many tribulations. As the novel opens, eighteen-year-old Emmett is being driven home by the Warder of Salinas, a juvenile detention centre, where he had served a short sentence for accidentally causing the death of a young man (not without provocation, Emmett had punched him, causing him to fall and hit his head). He is welcomed back to the family farm by the father and daughter from a neighbouring farm. During his sentence, Emmett’s father (who had always struggled to manage the farm) had died, and eight-year-old Billy had been looked after by Sally. She will emerge as a powerful character in the book, driven by a fierce righteousness that has been provoked by finding herself constantly expected to look after men who scarcely even acknowledge her. Immediately upon his return Emmett also learns that the bank is about to foreclose the various loans that his father had taken, and on which massive arrears have accrued.

I am conscious of how much I enjoyed the book, so am anxious not to strew any inadvertent spoilers, so won’t say much more about the basic background scenario, beyond saying that, after having planned to head to the west coast, for various reasons they actually end up travelling east. Their journey will be far from smooth, with a succession of mishaps and pitfalls, but also some extraordinary encounters, and some delightful characters.

Emmett is a finely drawn character, and his attitude to life and his obligations is far from what one might anticipate from a character just released from a custodial sentence. He has a strong moral code, and is determined never again to place himself under a debt or obligation to anyone else. Billy is earnest and erudite beyond his years, but with a very literal approach to life. His understanding of the world is largely formed from his enthusiastic study of a book drawing together a series of stories about exalted traveller, both real and fictional.

Emmett and Billy are joined in their travels by Duchess and Woolly, two of Emmett’s fellow inmates at Salinas. Woolly is from a privilieged background, but has not found it easy to engage with life. Duchess has had a far harder upbring, and while he has his own moral code, it is markedly different in scope, and implementation, from that of Emmett.

Towles delivers the story through sections focusing in turns on different characters, with some first person observations from Duchess thrown in along the way. I have found that this narrative form can detract from a story’s impact, but that is not the case here. The author keeps the story moving smoothly forward, despite the various tangents on which the action frequently departs.

All in all, this is a great story peopled by marvellous characters, and I had enjoyed reading it so much that I felt sad when I finished it.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
Towles is a wonderful writer. He creates characters that you want to know better and whose emotions you share. His books are filled with dozens of moments of the pure pleasure that most writers manage to achieve only a few times in their careers--much less in a single book. He is also full of
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wisdom and tidbits of esoteric knowledge that serve to give his books a nostalgic feel that makes you prefer their worlds to your own. The Lincoln Highway is full of such moments, wisdom, and knowledge, but it still falls short of his debut novel, The Rules of Civility, and his masterpiece second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. In both of those books, there is a narrative flow and a sense of suspense at what will happen next, and both books come to very satisfying conclusions--in the case of A Gentleman in Moscow, perhaps the best conclusion of any book I have ever read in my life. So, obviously, I came to this book with very high expectations. It is a bit of a bait and switch, however. Rather than a novel about a young man just released from a reformatory and his 8-year-old brother journeying on the Lincoln Highway to find their mother, who ran away to San Francisco six years before, we get a story about a very different and more perilous journey by train to New York City. And it is a very interesting trip, certainly, and the multiple narrative points of view are well done. But despite all the interesting goings-on and the memorable characters and moments of human kindness and perfidy, the book still seems like a series of episodes rather than a compulsive single narrative. I also found the ending unsatisfying, since it seems out of character for Emmett and Billy, the two brothers, and it also leaves lots of loose ends untied. No spoilers here, but I'm sure you'll have some of the same questions I had at the end. There simply must be consequences to what has happened.

Mr. Towles has written three novels that are all very different in setting--but this one leaves me wanting a sequel to see what happens to Emmett and Billy when they actually take their intended journey to San Francisco. If he writes it, I'll be there for the journey, because despite my criticism here, Towles is probably the most engaging writer working today, and his books are a sheer pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
A madcap adventure story, a fantastical story set in the fifties, a story about retribution, forgiveness missed connections, and peopled with some outstanding characters. An ode to reading, travel and the family we have, the family we make.

Towels has the talent to entertain with his scenarios, to
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pull a reader into a time period, a situation, to make the unbelievable, believable and to entertain so well that almost 600 pages just flyby. These are characters that one doesn't easily forget, even what one would call minor characters are central to the plot. One in particular is very young, Billy, but at times it seems he has more belief and wisdom than his elders.

I'm not quite sure I understand the ending but I intend soon to go back and re-read, and discussing with Angela and Esil will I'm sure aid in my endeavor. Another unforgettable story from Towles.
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LibraryThing member diana.hauser
The Lincoln Highway is written by Amor Towles.
I am ‘supposed’ to love this book. It is so highly acclaimed. And, yes, I found the writing to be brilliant - so quiet, so measured, so hypnotic.
I learned that there is, indeed, a ‘Lincoln Highway’. Very interesting. I love actual locations and
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historical ‘tid-bits’ in books.
I think Sally is my favorite character, possibly a forgotten or over-looked character to some, but my favorite. She is very special, along with Professor Abacus Abernathe and his Compendium of Heroes.
A book within a book - an absolutely stunning idea - and this book, this Compendium of Heroes, is an important (perhaps the most important) character in The Lincoln Highway.
But, and this is a huge but, I found the plot to be so cruel, so utterly soulless and heartbreaking; so sad and melancholy. The book depressed me to my very core.
I am unsure how ‘to rate’ this book. It is five star writing - I just didn’t care for its depressing spirit. *****
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
I love a good coming-of-age story and small adventures that add up to a complete novel. I found each character well developed and naturally loved Billy, the precocious 8-yr-old. Two other things that made this novel special: it's set in Nebraska (my home) and lots of references to The Odyssey
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(which I teach to 9th graders). Oddly, it reminded me of Breathing Lessons with the references to small town American and a road trip.
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LibraryThing member Tytania
Much like A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW; a more ridiculous story, but otherwise, incredibly similar - what is it with this guy and annoying little kid characters?

The protagonists are stoical Emmet, annoying little brother Billy, strangely mentally incompetent Woolly, and pants-charming scamp Duchess.
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Normally a character like Duchess tends to be my least favorite of an ensemble - constantly screwing up plans with his irresponsibility and mayhem. But here he ended up being my favorite, because the competition was so low, and because he was the only one to actually call out Billy as the little "know-it-all" that he was, rather than fawning all over him like every single other person.

And man, I thought this story would never end. Indeed I bet left to his own devices Towles could literally go on forever with digressions and whoopsies and now let's go off in this direction and who stole the car now?

I only read it because it was a gift.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Emmett Watson returns from a juvenile detention center in Salina home to Nebraska after the death of his father. It's just him, his little brother Billy, and a pile of bills, so Emmett's plan is to pick up stakes and move. Billy wants to drive the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco in their mother's
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footsteps, but then two of Emmett's buddies from Salina show up with plans of their own, kicking off a road trip of epic proportions.

I am trying to wrap my hands around my sprawling thoughts after finishing this book to mold them into a semblance of a review that both does the book justice and doesn't give spoilers. The storyline is a cross between an epic and a tall tale. The narrative follows several different characters - primarily Emmett and Duchess and Woolly, the two friends who turn up on his doorstep with grand plans, but also of Billy, their neighbor Sally, and a few characters that the boys come across in the course of their travels. Duchess is a fast-talking son of an alcoholic actor who could have annoyed me but was really a rather lovable scamp that reminded me of Huck Finn. His buddy Woolly has some troubles and an addiction of his own, but is a generally kind and thoughtful young man. And Emmett, our hero, is setting off trying to make his way in the world. Billy was honestly my favorite. I loved his perspective and his innocence. Towles shows his skill in keeping such a complex narrative readable, creating unique voices for each character, and crafting a book so different from his last. I can see why it made so many best lists in 2021.
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LibraryThing member shelf-employed
Not since the time of Abraham Lincoln has the country found itself amid such profound tension and upheaval. And so it is with perfect timing that Amor Towles has gifted us his latest novel. The Lincoln Highway begins in the middle of the country, in the middle of the twentieth century, in the
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middle of the story—or as Emmett’s younger brother, Billy, is fond of saying, in media res. Emmett Watson has just returned home to Nebraska following completion of his sentence at a Kansas work camp. His father recently died, his mother has been long gone, and his family’s farm has been sold. It is time, Emmett thinks, to take Billy and start a new life in Texas. Emmett is stoic and thoughtful; the reader wants him to succeed. It is because of this, that the reader will worry over the arrival of his former workhouse bunkmates, Woolly and Duchess. Their unexpected appearance threatens to thwart Emmett’s precisely plotted path. In keeping with the in media res storytelling style of Billy’s favorite book, Professor Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers, book sections begin with the number ten and work backwards. Chapters are written from the viewpoint of one of the book’s expanding cast of characters, with every new addition threatening disruption to Emmett’s plans. Chapter titles are the characters’ names and exude their personalities. Woolly is kindly, but naïve due to his upbringing in wealth and privilege; Duchess is loyal and entertaining but recklessly impulsive; Sally is plainspoken but an astute observer of human nature. There are other characters met along the way, and of course, there is the quiet and contemplative Emmett. Chapters end at decisive moments, but the reader must learn the fate of others before picking up the thread again. Often the same event is recounted twice. While Emmett frequently views the rash and seemingly careless actions of Duchess with frustration and annoyance, those same actions when seen through the eyes of Duchess, show that he, too, is a thoughtful follower of a deliberate plan. Even the seemingly witless Woolly acts with purpose. All are moving on the same path towards different destinations and young Billy is their compass, literally and figuratively. Billy’s love of maps and books, his attention to detail and his simplistic sincerity keep the travelers on track as they search for their desires. They seek peace, family, justice, adventure, independence. What better place to search than The Lincoln Highway, the cross-country road named for America’s sixteenth President?
As in earlier historical fiction novels by Amor Towles, fate and fairness are central themes that are relevant in any era. His characters have profound ideas that they acquire through unique social circumstances and often mundane life experiences. Each to our own ability, we are all capable of deep and worldly thoughts about the human condition. We are often at the mercy of circumstances we cannot control; but we are our own drivers; it is up to us how we handle the detours. The Lincoln Highway is a deftly plotted, deeply satisfying drive into the minds and hearts of average Americans.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Book on CD performed by Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland, and Dion Graham.

This is a quest and a road trip, a saga of family and friendship, an exploration of morals and principles against temptations which are seemingly impossible to resist.

Emmett Watson is an 18-year-old who’s been released
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from his term at a youth correctional institution. But his father has died and during his long illness he’d lost the family farm. So now Emmett and his younger brother Billy decide to set out for California and a new start in life. But their plan gets derailed when two friends from the juvenile center show up and suggest that they first go to New York, where they can collect a large inheritance. The result is an odyssey worthy of Homer, but rather than ten years, THIS odyssey takes only ten days.

Towles structures the book with alternating points of view, so we hear from Emmett, Billy, Duchess, Woolly, Sally and Ulysses (and a few other minor characters) in sequence. Frequently the same scenario is related by different characters, switching points of view at a critical juncture and sometimes going back in time to explain how we got to this point.

I loved these characters, though I was wary of Duchess from the outset. What a snake oil salesman! But I have to admit he’s a charming bandit. I couldn’t figure out why Emmett didn’t just say “No,” but of course, he had to think of eight-year-old Billy who was beguiled by Duchess and Woolly and excited by the possibility of starting the Lincoln Highway from its beginning in NYC. And Billy, with his beloved Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travels has the naïve trust of a child, but wisdom far beyond his years. He’s a keen observer and an astute judge of character.

Towles ends the book with a bit of a puzzle. Leaving the reader to imagine what will happen next, and hungry for more details of future adventures. I’m not sure I liked the ending; I’m left with a huge question about how Emmett can possibly get away from the law now that there is no one left to actually explain that he wasn’t involved. But it’s a fable, after all, and I guess I just have to take it on faith.

Edoardo Bellarini does the lion’s share of the narration on the audiobook, with Marin Ireland taking on the role of Sally and Dion Graham bringing Ulysses to life. It’s a marvelous, 5-star performance by all three!
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
A half star rates it for me - Not quite 4 stars but better than a mediocre 3. There was so much hype surrounding a new Amor Towles book that I stood in line, as so many others, waiting for a copy. Wondering if I would have missed anything by not reading the Lincoln Highway - probably. This book
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took much longer to read than most and I admit to feeling some anxiety each time I picked it up - concerned how Towles was going to turn the story. Now that I have finished it I am not sure whether I would recommend it but again - probably.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
I am between a 4 and a 5 on this, and the star rating may change. What won't change is my heartfelt opinion that this is a truly delightful (though not always happy) affecting romp. People will, I am sure, compare this to all sorts of American road trip books, and I suppose rightly so. The source
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material for this though is as firmly routed in Greek mythology as in the American myth. This is not guess, Towles is not subtle about his influences. Achilles and Patroclus are there as Duchess and Wooly (with a little less implied homosexuality), two of the most entertaining escaped prisoners since since Raising Arizona. We have Odysseus (here actually named Ulysses) and Penelope (but a better Penelope who doesn't sit around and wait.) Their part in the story is not central, but rather one of the delightful detours Towles takes us on. Sometimes with long books (this is nearly 600 pages) I get frustrated with detours, but not here. These detours are fun and edifying, and help to create a sense of time and place, and to reinforce the moral(s) of the story. Maybe even more important these side characters all suggest their own larger stories, and my mind went there, thinking about their lives before we met them, and wondering about where they next went.

I often like stories where the "main" characters are the least interesting characters (think Seinfeld) and that is very much the case here. Emmett is honorable, star-crossed, decent, but nonetheless bland, if in an occasionally heroic way. Bland though he is, Emmett is a good offset for Duchess. No blandness there, Duchess is a huge scenery chewing personality, and he is to my mind the star of this show.

My one significant problem was with Billy, Emmett's eight year=old brother, and the one character who influences the behavior of every other character. He had a christ-like thing going on (at least for most of the book) that irritated me. His innocence and impossible intelligence touches all who encounter him other than one truly evil character who flits in briefly. The way Billy was drawn grated on me. I am not entirely sure why. I like plenty of books with the "and a child shall lead them" narrative -- A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Children's Bible spring to mind -- but Billy's aw shucks wisdom didn't work for me. Maybe it was this eight year old midwestern kid's PhD level understanding of myth and honor. Its not like the characters are supposed to be realistic so I am not sure exactly why that unreality bugged me in Billy, but I suspect it is due to my antipathy for entertainment featuring wise precocious children who know more than the adults around them. Don't blame me, blame the little brother in Sixteen Candles. He broke me. I also think I have an issue with giving this the 5-star because I loved A Gentleman in Moscow so much. This was good, but not as good as that. Towles is sort of a victim of his own success here. Anyway, read the book. It's fun.
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LibraryThing member waldhaus1
The reader is left to figure out which classic and to enjoy the telling in all it's delightfulness. It is said the are really only a few plots with all stories and all literature being variants, retellings. Towels is telling us that by making professor Abernathy's book a main character.
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this was rewarding and I suspect rereading will be even more rewarding,
The characters all come to life for me. In my mind that is the Mark of a well written book. Each character follows the trajectory of their destination. The ending is fulfilling as the characters have followed their personal roads to their destiny.
At first I think they don't all live happily ever after but then I realized they do.. Each characters ever after is his or her place in the story, in the tellers mind and the lenders imagination. The characters of the great myths come back to life in each retelling. They are a form living in our imagination waiting to be recalled.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Thanks to Penguin Random House for a free advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Emmett has served his time in the juvenile justice system, but Duchess and Wooley are fugitives who stowed away in the trunk of the warden's car when he brought Emmett home to Nebraska. In
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1954, America is bursting with possibility. The three young men seek their fortunes traveling to New York City on the Lincoln highway, while Emmett's eight-year-old-brother Billy dreams of taking the highway in the opposite direction and finding his runaway mother in San Francisco.

Old scores, mishaps, and misunderstandings steer this road trip saga of adventure and friendship, which reads like a mythic comedy of errors. It's less Kerouac, more Monty Python. Emmett has left the perfect girl, Sally, back in Nebraska, and her sturdy Midwestern common sense makes a contrasting backdrop for the madcap action.
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LibraryThing member KatherineGregg
In 1954, 18 year old Emmett Watson is released early from a juvenile detention center, and returns to his home town in Nebraska where he meets up with his younger brother Billy. Their father has recently passed away, and the family farm has been sold. Emmett and Billy plan to reunite with their
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mother who left them years earlier and start life anew. The plan (following the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco) is sidetracked when Emmet and Billy discover that two of Emmett's pals from the juvenile center had secretly hitched a ride with the warden and show up at their house. Duchess, charming but dishonest, and Wooly, a naive, kind teen from a wealthy family, derail their plans. A road trip that takes them to New York involves pit stops at former residences, train rides, encounters with a Black war vet, a villainous preacher, and an author of a book on heros and adventures, to name just a few.

The book reminded me a lot of This Tender Land which I absolutely loved. Billy and Wooly are heartwarming characters and the road trip story line make the book hard to put down.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This sweet cross-country journey that almost wasn't takes place in 1952, where a road trip from Nebraska to California is waylaid by a New York City detour. It's told in a Damon Runyonesque voice by the road denizens: Emmett and Billy, older and younger brothers; Woolly, a screwed-up scion of the
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New York 500 social sphere, and Duchess, son of a conman Shakespearean itinerant and drunk. The three eldest have landed in a reform school, and when Emmett's term is up, the other two stow away in the trunk of the warden's car when he drives Emmett home to Billy. His two juvvie friends convince Emmett to take a side trip to New York, where Duchess wants to meet up with his wastrel father and help Woolly to recover a large inheritance. Billy, eight and very wise beyond anyone’s years, wants to travel the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco, where he's convinced he'll find the mother who’d left them years before. But nothing goes according to plan, and the travels by road and rail to the big city are full of detours but also paved with heroic and damaging deeds, doom and glory. It's too long at 575 pages, but pure delight abounds, and the folky wisdom throughout is rarely corny and mostly gratifying. It's light on female characters but the two, Woolly's sister and Emmett's friend, are memorable additions to the cast.

Quote: "Why is it, I wondered, that people born with money are always the ones who say the word like it's in a foreign language?"
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
For me, this book was close to perfection. I loved the story of Emmett, Billy, Duchess, Wooly and all the rest. I felt like I was transported to the 1950’s. Human nature presented itself often and worthwhile musings about people are spread throughout the book.

I over this book because it had a
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great yet simple and straightforward plot, wonderful character development and then the “lessons”, thoughts and ideas.

I have written down and posted on my bulletin board, “Kindness begins where necessity ends.” Indeed these are words to live by.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles is the story of two brothers who, after the release of one from reform school, decide to travel from Nebraska to California to start a new life. It’s June 1954, their mother is long gone, their father has died, the family farm has been foreclosed by the bank.
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There is nothing to keep them in Nebraska, and there is a chance that they could find their mother in San Francisco.

Eighteen year old Emmett Watson and his eight year old brother, Billy are ready to leave when Emmett discovers that two of his friends have sneaked away from the reformatory and are planning their own fateful journey. They want Emmett to drive them to New York where one of the two boys, Woolly knows where a large cache of money is, money that rightfully belongs to him. The other boy, Duchess, is not one to take no for an answer and he maneuvers the situation to ensure that the boys travel in the direction he so desires. Duchess has plans, not just for the money, but to “even the score” with people who he feels have done him wrong.

There is a lot to this inventive story as the author delights on taking us on many side trips as we travel across America. There are fascinating characters to meet, interesting places to visit and as we travel, we learn more about the four boys. My heart was lost to eight year old Billy as he is the moral centre of the story, but all of the boys had redeeming characteristics that enhanced the tale. I have seen mixed reviews of this book, but for me, I was totally immersed and absolutely carried away. At times the author could be a little long-winded, but the overall charm and emotion of the writing made The Lincoln Highway a memorable read and so, my first book of 2022 is a five star read.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Lincoln Highway: A Novel, Amor Towles, author; Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland, Dion Graham, narrators
Towles has woven a story about the life of several young boys in the middle of the 20th century. Using the Lincoln Highway as the road to their future and as the vehicle to expose their
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secrets and dreams, he unravels an amazing tale. The Depression, the Holocaust, Prohibition, droughts, and all manner of crimes have occurred, the consequences of which reverberate from generation to generation. This story is at once hard to believe and yet highly plausible.
The characters are diverse in color, religion, background and behavior, but they are all suffering in one way or another and are all presumed to be in, or rapidly approaching, their late teens. As a teenager, Emmett Watson made a grave mistake. A wayward punch led to the death of a bully who was insulting the memory of his father, Charles Watson. Emmett paid for his crime and was on his way to start a new life after his father's death and the foreclosure proceedings for his dad's farm. Emmett wanted to go to Texas with his little brother, only 8 years old, to begin a career in carpentry and real estate. His brother Billy, however, wanted to go to San Francisco to search for his mother who has abandoned the family shortly after Billy’s birth.
While in the Salina reformatory, Emmett met Duchess and Woolly. Duchess, a chameleon able to take on many different personas, had been abandoned as a child and abused by his dad. He had no moral compass, seemed unaware of his wrongdoings, and constantly wove believable tales to excuse them. Woolly, from the upper class, was brought up with every luxury and coddled but ostracized because he -was simple-minded and took everything literally. He was, contrasted with Duchess, completely without guile. Sally, unspoken for, lived with her father who was busy ordering her around like a maid and accumulating real estate. She yearned to be free of his demands. Billy, at 8 years old was likely the brightest bulb in the group, but he was totally naïve, often creating more problems than solutions. His favorite book is “Professor Abacus Abernathe's Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers and Intrepid Travelers”. He uses it as his guide through life's many moments. He extrapolates solutions and offers advice to all, based on the wisdom of the characters within the book. Ulysses is a hobo who is instrumental in saving the lives of the Watson brothers. How he became a hobo involves the choices that he made, which he now regrets by choosing his lonely lifestyle. While his past and present choices were consequential, were they right or wrong? Townhouse, from Harlem, is aware of the rules of the street and their requirements to survive. He is a leader and in charge on the street. He and Emmett made a connection at Salina. There are many more characters entering and exiting the pages of the book as we travel with them on the historic Lincoln Highway. It goes from the Southwest in California, to the Northeast and New York. It was privately funded. The travels begin in Nebraska. Other influential characters are Professor Abernathe, Sarah, the sheriff, Sister Agnes, Kaitlin, the corrupt pastor, etc. They all play a vital role in the way Emmet’s life unfolds. They all symbolize unique bits of society’s good and evil. Each character views the same situation through different eyes and draws separate conclusions. Each character brings out some new flaw or benefit of the human condition and the way they interact in different situations.
At the end, one will ask, do we ever truly know someone else or understand their motives or their decisions? We will wonder what is right and wrong in different situations. We will think about those that always seem to be victims of circumstance. We will wonder about appropriate consequences for our decisions and actions. Do the punishments fit the crimes and mistakes? Are they arbitrary? Are they deserved? We might begin to question what is morality? Is revenge ever a suitable solution? What about suicide or the taking of drugs? Does our legal system that requires retribution actually accomplish anything positive? Is it all right to occasionally break the rules or do we fool ourselves by excusing our misdeeds with false excuses meant to clear our consciences? When I finished the book, I also wondered, would there be a second? Would this be a series? There were a lot of unanswered questions? Would Emmett be haunted by his actions at the end? Would Sally find happiness? Wouldl Sarah understand how her own behavior might have influenced what happened to her brother Woolly? Does Billy keep searching for his mom? Does he ever find her? Does Emmet become a successful businessman and do Ulysses and Mr. Abernathy find happiness? Do scores have to be settled?
I loved the book with its constant twists and turns, with its character development and descriptions of each scene. I was always involved and interested, but the ending left me a bit wanting. Was this Lincoln Road, or even the rails, going to lead any of the characters to a happy ending as they hurtled toward their destinies? I thought that certain objects seemed so important that they, too, became characters in the novel, like the Studebaker, the little red book, the panda, the little bottle of “medicine” as well as the different timepieces and the fedora. I marveled at the amount of research that went into the book. Every human condition was explored, family relationships, abandonment, orphans, bullies, thugs, criminal minds, the war, the railroads, the roads themselves, family dynamics and more. Towles knowledge of the landscape and roads traveled, his awareness of the way a child thinks as opposed to an adult, the contrast of female and male characterizations, the presentation of anti-Semitism and racism, the observations about rich vs. poor upbringing, white vs. black lives, even in poverty, rural vs. city life, and the expressed insights into hope vs. despair, dreams vs. nightmares, justice vs. injustice, greed vs. kindness, ignorance vs. wisdom were all spot on. This is a story that covers so many personalities and the multitude of reasons for the way they developed. It will consistently draw you back into it, even with the many tangents and distractions that enter the narrative as the author focuses on one or another of them. This is also an audio that was highly enhanced by each of the narrator's interpretations of the scenes and the characters' personalities. Read it.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
An absolutely charming, poignant story which parallels "The Odyssey". Four boys, brought together by genetics and life circumstances, embark on a journey which takes them from Nebraska to NYC and beyond. The four boys and the cast of characters they spend time with are fabulous. Ulysses, a gentle
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giant whose life parallels that of the epic namesake, and Professor Abernathy, author of a compendium of adventures, are two of my favorites. The plot ranges from tragic, to comic, to poignant, to charming. The story is full of fascinating food for thought, social truths, and so much more. Themes which emerge include love, loss, social status and its absurdity, loyalty, trust and more. Just settle in and enjoy!
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
When an author's first book is good, a reader has high hopes for the 2nd, which, unfortunately, often disappoints. Not so with Amor Towles, whose second book (A Gentleman in Moscow) was, in my opinion, even better than the first (Rules of Civility). But one could be forgiven for being even more
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nervous about his third book. He can't possibly keep this up, right? But one should have more faith. The Lincoln Highway will not disappoint.

Towles is very upfront in telling readers that he wants each of his books to be different from the others. Once again, he has succeeded, at least as far as subject matter and character go. But he can't disguise his writing, so fans will still know it's a Towles book, and I think all will agree that it's a worthy addition to his card catalog entry. I'm excited to see what "something different" he comes up with next.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
Seemed a bit YA to start but then the character development kicked in. Reminded me a bit of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Coming of age with three morally grounded characters and one scoundrel.
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
This novel is a combination of humor and malice - three men are on the road, each with their own story and baggage. At times, they are friends and at others, they work against each other. All of which comes to a conclusion that left me feeling edgy and uncomfortable.
LibraryThing member lisapeet
A shaggy dog epic quest/road trip story with a cast of compelling characters, cheerful with more than a touch of malice. The end was really discomfiting, even for a person who doesn't like happy endings, and I'm still thinking about it.
LibraryThing member novelcommentary
There's so much to enjoy in this generous novel packed with fantastic characters — male and female, black and white, rich and poor — and filled with digressions, magic tricks, sorry sagas, retributions, and the messy business of balancing accounts. "How easily we forget — we in the business
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of storytelling — that life was the point all along," Towles' oldest character comments as he heads off on an unexpected adventure. It's something Towles never forgets.

The ending summary by NPR is an apt summary of the pleasant experience of read Amor Townes third novel. When Emmett Watson is driven home from the juvenile detention center, (his sentence of 18 months shortened because his father died), he doesn't know that two fellow inmates, Duchess and Woolly, have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden's car. Emmett's brother Billy helps convince him that a trip to San Francisco on the Lincoln Highway is the best choice for their future life. And so we start out with a journey novel gone astray as the brothers first agree to take the fugitives in the wrong direction so that they can catch a train. A quick stop at the orphanage where Duchess stayed results in chaos and a stolen car and so begins the plan waylaid by misadventure. This felt like something out of Mark Twain but that's not a bad thing. The characters are well drawn and the adventures keep the plot moving along more rapidly than that trip to California. Felt like an old fashion read, but I enjoyed being lost for the book's nine days of escapades in a life in the 1950s. Told from various points view with warmly drawn characters, including Ulysses, a war vet who travels the trains looking for his wife, and Sally, the hometown girl, looking to shun her Nebraska life of servitude.
Because a farmer with a mortgage was like a man walking on the railing of a bridge with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. It was a way of life in which the difference between abundance and ruin could be measured by a few inches of rain or a few nights of frost.

You’ve got to love that about Woolly. He’s always running about five minutes late, showing up on the wrong platform with the wrong luggage just as the conversation is pulling out of the station.

Jackson wouldn’t stomp on your foot if your toes were on fire.

Homer began his story in medias res, which means in the middle of the thing. He began in the ninth year of the war with the hero, Achilles, nursing his anger in his tent. And ever since then, this is the way that many of the greatest adventure stories have been told.

The Irish whiskey that had once put the jovial blush in his yuletide cheeks assumed command over his general welfare by emptying his coffers and severing his connections to clean clothes and polite society.

You could almost hear the thumb of reality beginning to press down on that spot in the soul from which youthful enthusiasm springs.

I am of the opinion, Professor, that everything of value in this life must be earned. That it should be earned. Because those who are given something of value without having to earn it are bound to squander it. I believe that one should earn respect. One should earn trust. One should earn the love of a woman, and the right to call oneself a man. And one should also earn the right to hope. At one time I had a wellspring of hope—a wellspring that I had not earned. And not knowing what it was worth, on the day I left my wife and child, I squandered it. So over these last eight and a half years, I have learned to live without hope, just as surely as Cain lived without it once he entered the land of Nod.

How easily we forget—we in the business of storytelling—that life was the point all along. A mother who has vanished, a father who has failed, a brother who is determined. A journey from the prairies into the city by means of a boxcar with a vagabond named Ulysses.
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