Paralleling his character development is that of Springfield, the prospective state capital, where hogs roam the dirty streets while speculators and political men muscle in, all seeking to “live a life of consequence.” Among the most prominent is Lincoln, a lanky and popular member of the General Assembly with a talent for off-color jokes and capturing a crowd’s attention.
The events are seen from the perspective of fictional poet Cage Weatherby, who becomes his close friend. This works well, for Cage also has a riveting personal story and can hold his own in scenes with Lincoln.
Full of wild ambition, yet awkward around women and prone to depression, Lincoln takes his time working out his approaches to the polarizing issue of slavery and to the ebullient and refined Mary Todd. In addition to fine character depictions, readers get a firsthand glimpse of early Illinois politics, a physically dangerous and occasionally bloody affair, while experiencing a tale about ethics, morality, and the nature of courage that feels as vital as today’s news.
A Friend of Mr. Lincoln will be published in early February by Knopf ($27.95, hb, 415pp). This is the version of a starred review that I'd submitted to Booklist for their January issue. I was so pleased to be asked to review this book; I had been seriously impressed by the author's earlier Remember Ben Clayton, plus this new novel takes place close to home. And for those familiar with the current state of Illinois politics, you'll want to read what it was like in Lincoln's time.