The Lincoln Highway

Written by Amor Towles
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

Huckleberry Finn, make way for valiant Emmett Watson. Also, for his bookish little brother Billy, for Duchess, the fatal troublemaker, and for world-wary Woolly, characterful friends who gather at the Watsons’ farm after the older boys are released (Emmett) or escape (Duchess, Woolly) from the labor camp where they served time as juvenile delinquents in 1950s America.

Although Billy references classic texts such as Ulysses and The Three Musketeers, the road trip upon which he and the others embark turns into a nonstop series of madcap misadventures that could well come from the pages of the book the boy prizes above all others, Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventures, and Other Intrepid Travelers. While Emmett and Billy originally intend to drive to San Francisco to track down their long-lost mother, they instead find themselves in pursuit of Duchess and Woolly after these two steal Emmett’s Studebaker and travel into the opposite direction—to New York. Before the siblings, who ride the trains with an assortment of fascinating fellow wayfarers, catch up with Duchess and Woolly, the boys’ biographies are told from the viewpoints of the four different protagonists.

As readers discover the tragic, rather than vicious circumstances which led to their incarceration, they come to care deeply for the boys—with perhaps one notable exception. But even though one of the friends threatens to turn their wonderful escapade into a murder plot, this amazing sojourn through the heart of the McCarthy-era United States, its colorful cast of drifters, and the central group of loveable yet complex, actually or partially orphaned, youths stay in the reader’s memory far more succinctly than individual crimes and misdemeanors. The ending makes one hope that there will there be a sequel—and perhaps a movie version, too.