Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: What Would Lincoln Say?


“Though I would have preferred to deliver my message in person,” Lincoln said, “my attempts to meet with President Obama have thus far brought me no success. So I am forced to do it here, in this forum.”

“Well the floor is all yours, Mr. President,” said Ellen, handing Lincoln the microphone. “Just look into that camera right there and say what you have to say, in 20 seconds or less, since we’re up against a hard break.”

That’s right. Abraham Lincoln on the Ellen Degeneres show.

The premise of Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz’s new novel is that a time-traveling Abe Lincoln materializes on the South Lawn of the White House just in time for the 2012 elections. He has a message for President Obama, hence the title What Would Lincoln Say? Lincoln’s words are only one aspect of the book, however. There is also a great story with plenty of action that keeps the reader engaged. It begins with the ambush of a Secret Service agent in a public housing project and builds to an assassination attempt on President Obama. The cover promises “a ‘Twist’ You’ll Never See Coming!” and the book delivers on that promise.

The characterization is excellent. The authors capture both Lincoln’s intense melancholy and his corny sense of humor (“How many plums can a young boy eat on an empty stomach?…One. After the first, the boy’s stomach is no longer empty!”). We see Barack Obama’s arrogance (he gets upset that Matt Lauer directs a question to Lincoln instead of him during a photo op) and Joe Biden’s combination of political calculation and buffoonery (“I say we blame it on the Tea Party.”). The fictional characters are good as well: the portrayal of a former Secret Service agent who was disabled in the line of duty is particularly touching.

I enjoyed the many humorous images and situations: Lincoln sitting in the psych ward reading The Fountainhead; a thoroughly repulsive liberal businessman of Russian/Hungarian descent who, like his thinly disguised real-life counterpart, is disappointed with Obama; an angry (and in my imagination, large) older woman completely changing her tune when Lincoln turns on the charm.

Sometimes the humor in time travel stories gets irksome. The characters can sound like those annoying historical re-enactors who refuse to break character (“What in tarnation is a digital watch, by gum?”). Mercifully, Fenton and Walsh came up with a device to avoid this – Lincoln has made most of his adjustment before the action starts. The fish-out-of-water jokes are rare, and when they occur, they are actually funny. My favorite is Lincoln eating Fruit Loops (he doesn’t like them).

The writing style is lean; the book is only 128 pages long. I would have enjoyed it more if the writers had fleshed out the scenes a bit. In one place, the paucity of words caused me some confusion. We see a character in Federal custody, handcuffed to a railing. In the next scene, he’s walking around free in Ford’s Theater. I think I know how he escaped, but I’m not sure.

Overall though, What Would Lincoln Say? is an entertaining and fast-moving book with humor, excitement, and a timeless message of individualism and freedom.

The authors invite you to “Join the Conversation” at

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