A “novel in thirteen stories” is really twelve fine tales and one novella, all partly interactive history and partly narrative, and all about our most-explored president.
The Lincoln we get here is mostly stripped down and humanized: “He sat in his second-floor office outlined in blue moonlight, kicking his feet high up against the wall, no shoes, just white socks with brown rings around the heels . . . .” Standout pieces include “A Rainy Night in Springfield, Illinois—1849,” about a pre-presidential Lincoln on the occasion of his having decided to lead a more meaningful life than that of a Springfield lawyer; “The Necropsy,” the novella-length account of the assassination; and “No More Time for Tears,” about a good talking-to Lincoln receives from Mary as she wonders in no uncertain terms what the point of the war has been. Often the stories come from chance meetings regular folk manage with the prez: A semi-crazy father (“The Ward”) loses his son to the war, then has a conversation with an Abe who’s perhaps more honest than the father counted on. And a sad conversation (“The Undertaker’s Assistant”) occurs between Lincoln and the man who prepared the president’s son for burial. These pieces are often as charming and poignant as many Civil War letters, including Lincoln’s, but the modern voice that is apparently intended to make Lincoln relevant and palatable all over again is too often flip with hip rhythms, or simply incongruous, as with casual references to the typewriter or the photograph (both so new as to be hardly casual), or with the offhand, albeit vivid, letter detailing rape and promiscuity written by a young woman to her president in “A Letter to President Lincoln from a Good Girl.” Ultimately, what we have here is Lincoln as he is remembered when plopped down in history: the result is historicized fiction rather than fictionalized history.
Still, lyric and often pleasing.