When I heard the historical fiction novel Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was about to be published, my sister and I hurried to the library and put our names on the reserve list.
Lincoln in the Bardo is set during the American Civil War in 1862 at the time President Lincoln lost his beloved son Willie. According to historical accounts, after Willie's death, Lincoln visited his son's gravesite on several occasions and held his son's body in his arms.
Any parent who has lost a child (no matter what the child's age) understands the deep and dark sorrow President Lincoln must've experienced, so I was curious how that was handled. I was also interested in the historical aspect of the story.
After the library called that the book was in, my sister and I picked up our copies. That was two days before my first chemo treatment, so I've been reading a few pages at a time when I'm feeling up to it.
The structure of the novel is creative and unconventional. The story is told mostly in dialogue through the eyes of the ghosts and without quotation marks. The speaker attributions appear on the lines beneath the dialogue passages.
Because of the novel's unusual structure, my sister told me she couldn't get into the story. I suggested she try reading just the dialogue and narrative and ignore the attributions centered below. She tried, but last I heard she quit reading.
Yesterday I came across a tweet that George Saunders has written an article "What Writers Really Do When They Write" in The Guardian, so I checked it out.
In the article, Saunders discusses the mysterious process of writing. He writes about revising one's work, moving from the general to the specific--"revising up to the reader" and respecting the reader. As a writer, that's advice I can use. As a reader, that's what I expect from an author.
Last night I picked up Lincoln In the Bardo again, determined to charge ahead so I can return the book by its due date (today). Since there is a waiting list at the library I can't renew the book. I guess I could keep it longer and pay a fine, but that wouldn't be fair to the other readers on the reserve list, so I'm determined to return the book today.
Back to the novel: I was willing to suspend my disbelief that ghosts in a graveyard hold conversations. I even overlooked the unusual structure and lack of quotation marks.
I made it as far as page 73, when I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Not because of the ghosts talking, but because of what one of them said.
On page 73 my mind whipped from the story to the words on the page.
I wondered if, in 1862, a man (a ghost actually) would use politically correct language that is commonplace today.
The ghost in question uses the term "his or her choice." Somehow, "his or her" doesn't sound right to me for a novel set in 1862. Wouldn't a man in that era simply use the term "his choice" even if women were involved?
So, here I am this morning, wanting to finish the novel because of the reasons stated above, but knowing that rather than getting lost in the story as a reader, I will be looking for more PC creep.
Perhaps, after I return the novel, I'll try finishing it at a later date.
Or maybe I'll just give up the ghost.