Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
3 words: melancholy, gentle, eccentric
I’m guessing you might’ve heard this by now, but… this is The Big Audiobook of The Year.
And it’s not because there are more than 160 narrators, though that’s certainly a source of much of the buzz.
And it’s not because the cast contains tons of famous actors, though that’s true, too.
And it’s not because all of this fuss is over the author’s debut novel.
All of those things contribute, but for me, there are three other factors that make this thing so amazing.
First, the story makes you feel all the feels. At one point, I had to turn off the audiobook, because otherwise serious sobbing would’ve ensued, and I was pulling into the parking lot at work. That wouldn’t do.
This book is a magical realism-tinged look at the days following Willie Lincoln’s death in 1862. The Civil War is raging away, and then Lincoln lost his beloved son. And the way Saunders writes, you feel it.
But because this book is narrated by lots of dead people in the cemetery, you also feel lots of other things, because they represent a cross-section of humanity. So there are kind souls and there are brutes, and there’s gentleness and there’s crassness.
Second, the author tells the story in an inventive way. Not only is much of the book narrated by the dead, but there are also sections of knit-together excerpts of writings of the time, describing things like Willie’s death, and the Lincolns’ parenting style, and Lincoln’s personality and appearance. And the opinions differed widely, so you see the difficulty of getting at “the truth” of a person or a situation. But throughout, the greatness of Lincoln shines through.
And third, Nick Offerman. The man’s a narrating genius. He and David Sedaris read the two main roles, and I gotta say: Offerman’s subtle, understated way completely slayed me. The nuance in his voice conveys ten times more than dramatic flailings could even hint at. His character is in denial about his own death, and each time any of the ghosts is about to say “casket,” he substitutes “sick box.” It nearly choked me up.
If you’re going to read this book, I sure hope you’ll listen to it. The beauty of the narration — by all those 166 narrators — adds texture and emotion to an already remarkable story.
Give this book a whirl if you like…Lincoln, cemeteries, ghosts, books that include snippets of real historical accounts, sad stories, a bit of earthiness, The Graveyard Book, The Spoon River Anthology