Thursday, April 6, 2017

Willie Lincoln's Ghost




Over the years, this forum has gone from being a history book club to a political blog, so it is nice to return to the roots once in a while.  I picked up a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  He's best known for his quasi-science fiction books like CivilWarLand and Pastoralia, where he looks at history through the lens of demented amusement parks.  In his most recent book, he digs into the depths of Lincoln's despair after losing his son Willie at the age of 11.

Willie goes through a bardo, a form of purgatory, in his crypt, which Lincoln visits.  Saunders blends historical pieces with what he imagines Willie was going through as his father had a very hard time letting go of him.  Saunders brings in a number of "speakers" from the cemetery, who work to move Willie onto the next stage.  Certainly a unique perspective on this tragedy, and I think a more satisfying one than Seth Grahame Smith's vampire novel.

Saunders' story is not without precedent.  Mary Todd held a spirit circle in the Red Room of the White House, hoping to call her son from the beyond, and there are those who believe the ghost of Willie is one of many that still haunt the White House.  After all, this is a place that has seen many deaths over the years.




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