Monday, February 17, 2020

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

The year is 1840 and the location is Springfield, Illinois.  Mary Todd is the belle of the town, a debutante who is considered the most prestigious catch in the city.  Abraham Lincoln is a poor man who rides the circuit as a lawyer, away for weeks at a time and deficient in social skills.  His best friend is Joshua Speed, the owner of the local mercantile store and his roommate.  Joshua is everything Lincoln is not; handsome, witty and skilled in all the social graces.  Yet the two men form a friendship that makes the hostesses of the town never invite one without the other, the two complementing each other so well that they almost seem to have an act.

No one would expect Lincoln and Mary to become a pair, least of all Mary.  She is initially put off by him as are many by his lack of conventional looks and awkwardness but she discovers that under his exterior lies an interesting man who she just can't seem to forget.  Her sister, with whom she is living while she finds a husband, is appalled that Mary might consider Lincoln to be a suitor even though he is a law partner of her own husband.  Yet there is something about Lincoln that makes Mary unable to forget him and look at more socially suitable men.

As time goes on, tension springs up between Joshua and Abraham as Abraham becomes more involved with Mary.  There is almost a jealousy that Joshua has for anyone else in Lincoln's life.  Although it is never spoken, it becomes clear that the friendship may mean more to Joshua than it considered acceptable.  What will become of this trio of individuals?

Louis Bayard has written a tale of the early years of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd that will keep the reader compulsively turning the pages.  We know of Mary Todd Lincoln only in her latter years, when she is half mad with grief for her children.  Almost no one knows anything about Joshua Speed and his pivotal role in Lincoln's evolution from a backwoods lawyer to a man who can lead a nation in its most perilous times.  The writing is delicious and this reader finished the book only to vow to read all of Bayard's titles that I haven't yet read.  He has always been one of my favorite authors and this book is proof of why.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

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