*** DEBUG END ***

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

26 November 2021

Malcolm Doney enjoys a 600-page account of a ten-day journey

AMOR TOWLES is best known for his novel A Gentleman in Moscow: a huge bestseller, beloved of book groups around the world. The Lincoln Highway deserves comparable success, even though its genre and scope could not be more different.

Whereas A Gentleman in Moscow burrows through the confined, subterranean, behind-the-scenes world of a luxury hotel, The Lincoln Highway is a classic American road-trip novel. It hitches a ride with On the Road, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Huckleberry Finn into wide open spaces.

In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson is driven back home to Nebraska by the kindly warden of the juvenile work camp where he has served a sentence for an understandable crime. His mother has long left, and his father recently died. The family farm has been foreclosed on by the bank. But Emmett has a plan: to pick up his precocious eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head west to California on the highway of the book’s title.

While Emmett is capable and self-reliant, he very soon discovers that he is not the master of his own destiny. For a start, two former inmates have stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s car.

Fast-talking Duchess (a young man, despite his name) and well-born, part-vacant Woolly have their own agendas and travel itinerary. All four, to which we must add the proto-feminist Sally (who has been caring for Billy during Emmett’s sojourn), are on a quest, with individual hopes and dreams to fulfil.

Each of these characters has equal weight, and their inner desires lend a genuinely epic quality to the journey, even if — as Emmett begins to recognise — it shares some of the characteristics of the trajectory of Zeno’s paradoxical arrow, which, despite being in flight, never seems to reach its objective. In Billy’s capacious backpack is Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers and other Heroes, which becomes a kind of spiritual satnav to show how heroes on a quest should behave.

Just ten days stretches to almost 600 pages, but Towles’s myth-making, masterful storytelling is so humane, uplifting, and compelling that I didn’t want the journey to end.

The Revd Malcolm Doney is a writer, broadcaster, and Anglican priest.


The Lincoln Highway
Amor Towles
Hutchinson £20
Church Times Bookshop £18

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)