Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, 2008, etc.) has Abraham Lincoln narrating his own story, beginning a few moments before the assassination and then telling the highlights of his life through a series of flashbacks.
Lincoln is presented here literally warts and all, from his rough-and-tumble upbringing to his early career as a lawyer and Illinois state legislator to the burden of being president. His first serious relationship is with Ann Rutledge, with whom Lincoln is very much in love (though Charyn endows him with a 21st-century sexual consciousness that at times seems rather jarring). After Ann’s death, Lincoln develops a case of the “blue unholies,” a melancholy that haunts him for much of the rest of his life. He next takes up with the vivacious and demanding Mary Todd, who comes across as more of a burden than a helpmeet, especially when they get to the White House, where she is unadmiringly styled the “Lady President.” Mary is preoccupied with redecorating, flirting and, later, with deeply grieving the loss of her son, Willie. The portrait of Lincoln readers get is characterized by emotional and psychological complexity, for he’s a reluctant candidate, a caustic commander in chief and, at times (understandably), a diffident husband. He, too, is deeply saddened by the death of his son as well as by the deep social divisions he seems unable to bridge.
Charyn skillfully weaves bits of speeches and a large cast of characters, most of them drawn from Lincoln’s life, into his intricate portrait of the 16th president.