Mr. Lincoln’s Wars
Not a novel in the usual sense of the word, Mr. Lincoln’s Wars consists of thirteen short stories. Insulated in characters, plot and voice, the stories nonetheless overlap in such a way that familiar history comes into a focus of stereoscopic wonder, depth and reality. Just when we thought not one more book, certainly not an original one, could possibly be wrung out of the American Civil War and the long, lanky man who oversaw the slaughter, here it is. The world this book creates teeters in desperate potential rather than lying dusty, set in the cement of the intervening years.
Vivid, lush, sensual prose, rippling with muscular verbs, thrusts the reader into the succession of scenes: The all-too-familiar horror of the abused child grown to a man for whom war, that chilling place where nobody gives “a rat’s ass how cute you were as a baby boy,” is salvation, war’s end, an end to all respectability, in “Zack Hargrove.” In “The Idiot Brother,” a family gives up their whole, normal son to the cause, and even the infant-minded second son left behind knows mutely that something is terribly wrong. A Lincoln very different from the hero we are used to, vulnerable, addicted, perhaps even mad, contemplates taking morphine for his own pain from a supply-strapped doctor amputating limbs on the bare stones of a battlefield. To “Necropsy,” the final dissection of the dead president’s shattered brain, when John Wilkes Booth plays his final scene in the spotlight’s burning red glare, I can only say, “Wow.”