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Cross Country on The Lincoln Highway

For the uninitiated, the Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway in the country, stretching from Times Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, which houses the elegant Museum of the Legion of Honor, a gift of the French to America. The road was dedicated in 1913. It makes a nice symmetry, I think, that there is an iconic French gift to the U.S. on each coast. However, That’s not the subject of Amor Towles novel, so let’s switch. 

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One boy is released from a reformatory after serving a sentence for a more or less accidental death. He punched a guy who fell and hit his head. His father dead, and an atmosphere of resentment hanging over him in the small Nebraska town, He determines to start a new life. The plan is to sell everything, climb in a car which he managed to purchase pre “crime”, climb on the highway with his orphaned younger brother, and drive to San Francisco. There, he figures he can use his carpentry skills and the cash from the sales of his family farm to buy a house, fix it up, flip it, and go on to build himself a bit of an empire. Plans thwarted, of course. Two of his reform school buddies escape from the reformatory, and through some smooth talking and deception manage to turn him around and travel to New York instead of San Francisco. The rest of the story is episodic, even picaresque as we move from one adventure to the next and move back and forth among various characters. Between those people’s fantasies and various backstories, we find ourselves wound up with these vagabonds in a suspenseful, comical, and deeply moving coming of age story that is both life-affirming and rewarding to read. Towles is a story teller worth following. Those of us who have read A Gentleman in Moscow already know that. The rest of you, Go find out for yourself.

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