Changes in Reading and Writing?

“It is the inherent right of all writers to experiment with the possibilities of language in every way they can imagine—without that adventurous spirit, nothing new can ever be born.”            ~~ Haruki Marakama

Reading is one way for an author to experiment with language possibilities. After publishing If You Walk Long Enough and my short story collections, I’ve grown restless and want to explore those possibilities which Marakama describes. Amor Towles’ latest endeavor popped up.

Towles’ latest, The Lincoln Highway offers a gentle read. It’s not filled with blood or explosions or gore. In fact, it’s a rather fun, adventure tale—like Huck Finn—of four fellers on a quest. After the holiday stress of trying to juggle friends and family while struggling with yet another covid outbreak, it’s the perfect get-lost-in-reading book. Least you think the book, chewing gum for the eyes, check out the moral gems for living and managing relationships scatted throughout the pages. They offer priceless insights.

The title comes from the Lincoln Highway, the first road to stretch across America. It begins in New York City’s Times Square and unravels due west to Lincoln Park in San Franciso, California. It took more than another decade for the Mother Road, Route 66, to plunge from Chicago into the Missouri Ozarks and west to Los Angeles. 

More than an escapist read, Towles’ The Lincoln Highway is a tour du force of writing and publishing changes which are chewing at the edges of the publishing world. Over 575 pages long, the book offers eight point-of-view characters, each stepping forward to take the lead in multiple chapters. Four of the eight are major characters; four secondary voices. All chapters are written in third person. Except one. One of the leading character’s tale is told in first person.

Confusing? Well, no. Seamlessly written in ten sections, the first person POV is neatly tucked among third person accounts of the other seven characters. As a reader, I barely noticed the change in view since it was consistent to the character. As a writer, I found first person juxtaposed against third person, an open door to more writing possibilities.

Four characters are mentioned at various times by one or more of the main characters throughout the novel. While these minor characters are constant, they do not have separate chapters.

Moreover, there were no quote marks. Dialogue is set off by a dash with a separate line for each speaker. Attribution tags are almost nonexistent. I will admit, I found the lack of conventional punctuation a conundrum until my reading eye adjusted about halfway through the first chapter. The lack of attribution made me re-read a few lines of dialogue, but I found the absence of quote marks quite manageable. Happily so.

I’ll be the first to admit that Towles is a more talented and experienced writer than myself. While I recognize his talent, I found my reading-self enjoying the unfolding of The Lincoln Highway adventure as story, while my writing-self explored its unique structure.

Amor Towles is a New York Times bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility. Haruki Marakama is an internationally known Japanese writer of novels, essays, and short stories.

Look for Towles and Marakama in your hometown library.

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