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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Casual Critic — Adam Braver's Mr. Lincoln's Wars

I've had a difficult time figuring out what exactly I think of Adam Braver's debut novel, Mr. Lincoln's Wars. Described as historical fiction, which I don't recall ever reading before at least as an adult, the text subtitled "Novel in Thirteen Stories" offers interesting enough reading but struggles to solidify its value.

The strongest aspects of the stories, which I'm not convinced equate to a novel at all, are the presentation of various opinions offered from fictional characters on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Without having done much research on the book or Lincoln, I pretty much assume the stories are at least grounded in fact. (Otherwise, the book has zero value.) Reading about the frustration on both sides of a fairly protracted war was a side of the North that was a bit eye-opening for me.

Braver portrays Lincoln as somewhat tortured over the death of his son Willie. The human side of our 16th president, depicted as roaming the White House night after night and trying to help his wife cope at the same time, left me wondering about the power we give to one man.

The story behind John Wilkes Boothe's assisination stood out from the others. I never really thought about how convinced individuals in the South were that Lincoln was ruining our country by freeing the slaves. But, it obviously makes complete sense, and the portrait of Boothe drives the point home quite well. (For the record, I'm saying it makes sense that the southerners felt that way based on the fact that they tried to form their own country over the issue. I'm not agreeing with their stance on slavery.)

Braver also examines, in separate stories, the night of Lincoln's death from Mary Todd's perspective and the president's autopsy. Both, for reasons other than the obvious, were quite sad. Mary Todd is forced to essentially stand aside while official business is tended to, and you almost get the sense that she wished her husband hadn't risked it all to free the slaves. The irony of this is highlighted by the fact that she sought comfort from their black servant on the night Lincoln was killed. The story of his autopsy again reduced Lincoln to one of us, as do the stories focusing on his pain about Willie, in the end no more or less a man than anyone else despite his place in history.

Decent reading, Mr. Lincoln's Wars nonetheless kept begging the question of how much balance there was between "historical" and "fiction." It also walked an odd line between a children's tale and very adult language. Read it for fun while looking for something better.

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