Monthly Archives: February 2020

Book Review: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

If  emotive storytelling appeals to you, then hurry and place Courting Mr. Lincoln, a historical novel by Louis Bayard, in your Amazon cart.

The “courting” in this tale is twofold: set in the early 1840s, it tells how Joshua Speed educates Lincoln in society’s ways so he can actually court Mary Todd, who is in Springfield, Illinois visiting her sister with marriage on her mind. Young, frontier-rough Abe Lincoln is a boarder in Joshua Speed’s rooms above Speed’s general store. The two men share a bed, in fact, something not unusual at that time.

They also share a deep friendship, a love for each other, and a great respect for virtues of fidelity and honesty. Those characteristics cause Abe the most pain, when he comes to realize that his toast to “bachelorhood” is taken by Speed as an oath:

“I thought we made a vow,” (Speed) said. “Never again to think of marrying, do you remember? Because we couldn’t be satisfied with anybody who’d be blockhead enough to have us. We made a toast to bachelorhood. To brotherhood. Do you recall?”

Lincoln agonizes over breaking this “vow,” such as it is, without adequately taking into account Speed’s feelings, which have grown very deep for this unusual blossoming politician who already seems to have a great destiny before him. Some historians speculate if this relationship was more than friendship.

Both men end up leaving each other for marriage. Speed eventually marries Fanny Henning after returning to his native Louisville, Kentucky, and Lincoln weds Mary Todd, but not without first breaking their engagement, as he sorts out, in this telling, if he’s worthy of her and whether he’s been unfaithful to his friend and that “oath” they made to each other.

The story is told from two alternating points of view, both in third-person: Joshua’s and Mary’s. Mary Todd has received some shabby treatment over the years, with an emphasis on her involuntary commitment to a mental institution years after her husband’s death, so it was refreshing to read this sympathetic take on her character. Bayard paints a portrait of a wildly intelligent woman who was Lincoln’s equal intellectually, perhaps the main reason he was attracted to her. Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 6.58.44 AM

Louis Bayard is a master at historical fiction, using details about dress, etiquette, speech, and more to set you smack-dab in the time he’s placed his stories. In Courting Mr. Lincoln you can smell the mud-clogged streets of 1840 Springfield, Illinois, hear the buzz of horse flies when windows are left open in warm weather, see the perspiring faces of party-goers crammed into small rooms with blazing hearths. You’ll want to read more of his oeuvres after this well-done novel, and perhaps more history of Lincoln, too. I’ve already ordered the book of letters from Lincoln to Speed that Bayard mentions in his acknowledgments.

One final note: If you go to Amazon to order this book, you’ll see it’s highly ranked in “LGBT” literary fiction and historical fiction. It is definitely a story of male love, but it is in no way sexually explicit. It is first and foremost a beautiful story of transcendent love, devotion, and destiny, a small piece of a history of a very great life. I highly recommend it to all readers.

 

 

 

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Tackling the controversial

I finished writing a book recently. Titled The Reed Boat, it’s probably classified as upmarket women’s fiction. It has faith overtones, though, so maybe it could fit into the Christian fiction market, too. That said, it really has only the same amount of faith references that most novels of the previous centuries had. Nowadays, most novels are aggressively secular, so if you do have spiritual elements in a story, it can be ghettoized in the Christian fiction market (not a bad place to be, mind you, but it will probably limit your readership to some degree).

Though it’s mostly a story about a woman’s search for something in her late mother’s past, it touches on, very late in the story, a controversial topic.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds the key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make to protect their children, The Reed Boat holds a subtle pro-life message that even pro-choice women should be able to understand and accept–it’s about protecting girls from unscrupulous men.

I debated whether to throw in that last sentence because I know that touching on the topic of abortion in a mainstream novel is like touching the third rail, sure to result in sparks, maybe even electrocution. But I felt I needed to insert that reference because, otherwise, agents I’m trying to interest in the novel might be upset that I didn’t warn them.

But here’s the thing: the opinions expressed by the characters in my novel echo those of the majority of Americans. If you look at Gallup polls on the topic of abortion, for example, you might be surprised to find that the views one often sees represented in news stories about abortion are at the extreme–illegal under all circumstances or legal under all circumstances. The majority of Americans polled (53 percent) actually believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances. gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048

So my characters’ views — expressed late in the novel, as I mentioned above — might align more with that majority middle ground. The reason I write “might” is because I don’t include a big polemic coming from the mouths of those characters. Like most people, they don’t sit around discussing abortion. They just…take care of their families, especially their daughters.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will snag an agent, let alone an editor. It’s not a book about abortion. It just glances the topic at the very end. But it’s such a controversial subject that I felt the need to alert potential agents to it. Maybe that’s the wrong approach. Would love to hear opinions. Post a comment here or feel free to email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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