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Spooky Reads Recommendation: “Lincoln in the Bardo”

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Written by Jasey Roberts

Author George Saunders was introduced on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” as “quite possibly our greatest living author.” With his famous dry wit, Saunders immediately asked Colbert in a fake-snide voice, “You said ‘quite possibly’?”

Saunders described that, when he became sick of trying to be Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and finally decided to write like himself, he felt that he “had been getting his ass kicked in an alley somewhere and only just realized he had an arm tied behind (his) back.” He released his first novel in early 2017 called “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which made waves in the literary community and earned Saunders himself a Man Booker, making him the second American ever to win the award. He is also a MacArthur Genius fellow and is considered by many to be a master of the short story form, which makes his choice to finally write a novel surprising to many.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” is, first and foremost, a ghost story, which makes it a perfect book to read in the remaining days of spooky season. It takes place during the height of the American Civil War – and Abraham Lincoln’s youngest and favorite son, Willie, dies suddenly from typhoid. Washington legend has it that when they buried Willie in the tomb in Oak Hill Cemetery, the president returned on several occasions late at night to open the crypt and weep over his son’s dead body.

Sounds like a riot, right? But Saunders takes this local legend and morphs it into a tale of his own creation. “Lincoln in the Bardo” takes place entirely on one of the nights that Lincoln visits Oak Hill, but it is narrated from the perspective of the various ghosts that inhabit the graveyard. This is where the book gets truly interesting – it isn’t really about Abraham Lincoln, but about America and its history.

The cast of ghosts in this book is so huge and diverse that the voice cast for the audiobook has over 160 different people, each of them representing the many souls and voices that built America. Audible users will enjoy narration from Nick Offerman, Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader, Rainn Wilson, Ben Stiller, Keegan-Michael Key, Kat Dennings, David Sedaris, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeff Tweedy, as well as Saunders himself and many members of his family.

Even if you don’t like audiobooks, the book itself is chock full of inappropriate jokes, soul-crushingly tender moments, and heart-poundingly triumphant ones. It also, surprise-surprise, very weird and very silly, which is part of Saunders’ MO. Take that, Hemingway!