I’ve been waiting for almost a year to get my hands on this book. Ever since Liberty Hardy reviewed it on Litsy, I’ve been excited about it. It was finally released on February 14th. I saw it at the library while I was checking out other books and screamed, “Wait!” while I dove to the “current releases” shelf to grab my copy.
The premise is fascinating: Abraham Lincoln grieving for his son, Willy, who died from typhoid during the same night as a lavish party at the White House. Saunders explores Lincoln’s unbearable grief and his suffering knowing so many other fathers were also mourning their sons killed in the war he was responsible for.
It seems many readers either love or hate this book. I’m of the first camp, but I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The format is unusual, but if you’re willing to surrender to Saunders’ delivery, it’s rewarding beyond measure. Lincoln in the Bardo is presented at first as excerpts from historical sources. Saunders lists various eyewitness accounts of the extravagant party at the White House, Lincoln’s reaction to Willy’s death, even the appearance of the moon on that fateful evening, showing the reader the fallibility of memory and how one event can merit several interpretations.
Saunders then introduces our main characters, the ghosts who inhabit the cemetery in Georgetown where little Willy is laid in a borrowed crypt. These souls have not passed on, not realizing, in fact, that they have died. Their adventures and catharses while rescuing Willy from purgatory are remarkable. Lincoln’s grief is palpable, as is Willy’s confusion and reluctance to leave his father. The ghosts themselves have difficulties of their own, with their passing on and with their inability to accept their faults during their mortal lives.
The book mostly reads like a stage play with multiple characters speaking brief lines of dialogue. Saunders’ approach helped me absorb the relationships among the characters through their conversations. It was an unusual and enlightening way to tell this story. This book is sad, at times hilarious, complex, and illuminating. If you find it confusing at first, don’t give up. You’ll grow to love the denizens of the bardo.
This book is a masterpiece. I highly recommend it. It was definitely worth waiting for.
When middle-aged Jean was a little girl, her mother told her she didn’t have a practical gene in her body. Jean took this to mean a “practical Jean,” and now that she’s grown and has found her purpose, she’ll show her mom just how practical she really is.
Jean has just endured a few months caring for her mom during her illness and eventual death, and is reeling at just how unfair old age can be. No one should suffer as her mom did, and everyone should go out with joy, before the indignities of age and the suffering of disease ruins them. Ever practical, Jean decides to give the best gift she can give to all those whom she loves: one final happy moment and a quick death.
Jean has many different types of friends: the blunt, forthright one who always tells her like it is; the old reliable college friend; the fun, wild friend whose circumstances have tamed her . . . and don’t we all have friends like this? Jean has all types of relationships that she’s collected during her life, some that have fallen by the wayside and others that have fallen completely apart.
I took comfort in how the author addressed how difficult it is for women to find and keep friends in middle age. The author concedes a point that men don’t usually form close friendships at this age, and don’t need them or seek them out (is this true?). There are so many things that hinder older women from forming friendships: different socioeconomic statuses, different stages of life, different relationships with spouses. When you’re in elementary school, all it takes is “hey, we’re on the playground at the same time, now we’re best friends,” but as women age, the baggage, the insecurities, and the life demands smother many potential friendships.
Practical Jean is an unusual book. Even though she bumped off her friends, it was done out of love, and I found myself still pulling for Jean in the end. (What does that say about me?) The women in this book are hilarious, but at the same time very sad. It’s a dark comedy, a relationship study, a heartwarming tale of love . . . and murder.
My niece, Rachel Rozet, and her co-author, Kate Luke, have published their first novel through The Polyethnic. It’s available on Amazon and through the publisher’s Web site, thepolyethnic.com.
Kinda, Sort Of is the story of Camryn and Jason, best friends since kindergarten, who face a romantic challenge now that they are in high school and their peers can’t accept that their relationship is strictly platonic. In order to stop the incessant teasing, Camryn and Jason decide to fake a romance so that they can break it off in front of everyone and end the badgering.
Alternating between the perspectives of the two main characters, the story is well-organized with steady pacing. The characters are charming, but not without their faults, which affords a more in-depth story. I was gobsmacked that this novel was written by two teenagers. The quality of the plotting, dialogue, and character development speaks volumes for their talent and is of the caliber I’ve seen in accomplished, professional writers. This is the type of story to appeal to a young audience, as well as an older audience who remembers the idealism of young love.
I really enjoyed reading about Camry and Jason. If you like an engaging story, I encourage you to check out Kinda, Sort Of. This one will make you smile.