Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I decided to purchase this book to read for two reasons. It was a hot summer read and I am curious about what people around me are drawn to. It is also something I wouldn't normally read. Let me tell you, I had a difficult time getting going with this book. As I began, I was sure all of this book's readers were crazy. It's written as though you are reading portions of diary entries from people who could not spell or formulate sentences. My head wanted to implode. Even at page fifty, I tried to come up with how I would describe this book for a review. One line from from Truvy in the movie Steel Magnolias came into my head. "The nicest thing I can say about her is that all of her tattoos are spelled correctly." I read on.
Let me tell you, I finally came to see how George's writing style is brilliant. I actually felt like I was interacting with these people. The book made me do quite a bit of research. The story is based off of evidence that when President Lincoln lost his second son to Typhoid fever, he would go to the cemetery and hold his body. (They believe he contracted this from tainted water coming into the White House. His son sat in a borrowed tomb for 3 years until his body could be moved to their home state.)
The idea of the bardo is akin to a holding place. It's the idea that there is a space between when you die and when you go on to the next life. George mixed all manner of theologies in his cemetery tale. Some people were taken by demons. Some went with Christ. Some went on to become something else. Obviously, this doesn't line up with my own beliefs, but it is interesting to see what people put their hope in.
There were many moments in the pages that you could compare to life as we live it. You can see how pain, grief, and regret keep us in this empty gap where we neither move forward or heal. As Lincoln released his son, you can see how healing it is to not hold on when you are meant to release.
There were a few times when a random raunchy paragraph popped up out of no where. I'm not sure if Mr. Saunders was trying to engage our current culture or simply paint a picture of deeply depraved souls. I could also understand this base nature of humanity that tries to pour anything it can on hurt to numb oneself.
After all of that, I have no idea how I feel about the book. I wanted out of it. I found it riveting. I wanted to throw up on it. I wanted to know more. It is skillfully written. In my theology there is no bardo. I have however seen grieving people held captive in this holding place when they refused to let go of a loved one or something else that grieved them. This is a story of making peace with that pain.