In the Winter of 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie passed away. This simple but tragic fact forms the basis for what is one of the most unique and moving novels I’ve ever experienced. The story is told through the persepectives of 166 different characters, which are presented in 2 different ways. Things begin in the form of citations from different historical texts, both real and imagined, with some being quoted for a single sentence. This can be a bit weird to adjust to, but once you do, it winds up feeling like a pretty ingenious way to help you really get a feel for the time period and location in which the novel takes place. Eventually, things switch to a conversation among some of the spirits at the cemetery in which young Willie Lincoln has been laid to rest. This part is much easier to get into as it reads a bit like a play. The characters in the graveyard are never less than interesting, and their appearances and backstories range from absurdly funny to heartbreakingly sad. The book then alternates between the 2 modes, blending history and light fantasy to create something truly original. In its moving descriptions of grief and loss, it really helps us to better understand our own feelings, in particular towards death, both of our loved ones and of our own inevitable end. This a perfect book that both challenges and delights the reader, and I will remember it as one of my all-time favorites.
NOTE: If you get the chance, give the audiobook a try. Each of the characters is voiced by a different performer, including many familiar names like Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Carrie Brownstein, Lena Dunham, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Bradley Whitford, Bill Hader, Megan Mullally, Don Cheadle, and many more. There isn’t a single bad performance in the bunch, and it only serves to make this beautiful story even more memorable, though as with the written version, the way that it is presented does take a bit of adjusting to at the beginning. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor