cover image I Am Abraham

I Am Abraham

Jerome Charyn. Norton/Liveright, $26.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-87140-427-5

Charyn certainly manages to bring the legendary 16th president down to earth; most readers will find it hard to view the Great Emancipator the same way after reading this fictional memoir’s description of him masturbating as a young man. But the novel also succeeds in making the legendary figure more accessible, using Lincoln’s lifelong battle with depression as an avenue through which to explore his life and perspective. The opening section presents the president’s memories of his last night, ending as Booth’s bullet shatters his skull, and then flashing back to 1831 as the young Lincoln begins life in New Salem, Ill. The rest of the book traces his well-known life arc, from prairie lawyer to U.S. president. This is a warts-and-all portrayal, not only of the lead, but of central supporting figures, most especially his tempestuous and difficult wife, Mary. Charyn has managed to craft a fictional autobiography that rings emotionally true. (Feb.)