Amidst the rising tensions of the Civil War, President Lincoln is dealing with more than the state of the country; his son Willie caught something akin to typhoid fever and the outcome is grim. The lines of reality and fantasy become blurred as Saunders weaves fiction and non-fiction snippets to create a unique breed of story. During the non-fiction portion, descriptions of Lincoln himself, events hosted by the Lincoln’s, the war, and the state of Willie are all told by differing historical sources, giving the reader a plethora of angles that paint the family in shining and darker lights. The fiction takes more liberties with its story, focusing on Willie after he dies. With connections to the realm of the living and a night where the President visits Willie’s tomb, a confusing turn of events causes the current long-standing residents of the graveyard to embark on an eye opening journey and a great deal of change.
This quasi-epistolary/alternating quoted speaking style the novel takes on may be jarring for some readers at first; it does take time to place who the fiction characters are, who is speaking, and the movement of the plot line. Because of this, the pace of the novel tends to err on the slower side. While the strange story line keeps the reader engaged just enough to turn the page, the culmination at the end of the novel falls flat. With the array of characters who had such large personalities in the beginning of the book, the conclusion Saunders concocted results in a dry, unfulfilling, and overall puzzling ending.