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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

George Saunders has written his first novel and it’s just as unusual as his short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo is historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his son Willie, who is caught between lives.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

Buzzfeed has an excerpt of the novel, which takes the form of a collection of quotes.

The boy, frustrated at being denied the attention he felt he deserved, moved in and leaned against his father, as the father continued to hold and gently rock the—
the reverend everly thomas

Sick-form.
hans vollman

At one point, moved, I turned away from the scene and found we were not alone.
roger bevins iii

A crowd had gathered outside.
the reverend everly thomas

All were silent.
roger bevins iii

As the man continued to gently rock his child.
the reverend everly thomas

While his child, simultaneously, stood quietly leaning against him.
hans vollman

Then the gentleman began to speak.
roger bevins iii

Time to bust out the Google Cardboard: the NY Times VR team adapted a part of the novel into a 10-minute VR film.

Here’s a good interview with Saunders about the book and a review by Colson Whitehead. The book has been hovering near the top of the Amazon best sellers list since its release — it was #2 when I looked yesterday but is currently 6th, right after Orwell’s 19841 — and I’ve seen several people in my Instagram feed reading it…or at least socially signaling that they’re reading it. ;)

  1. The current #1 is a hardcover strategy guide for a new Legend of Zelda game that doesn’t come out until next month.

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