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I've been reading I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn for the past couple of weeks. A lover of Charyn's work, and enamored by anything about Lincoln and the Civil War, I scooped this book up right away when I heard it was available for review.
At this point in my life, I've read several accounts of Lincoln's life and even more about the tumultuous time in America's history that found the nation divided and pitted brother against brother. Never before, however, have I found Abraham Lincoln portrayed in such a way. For the most part, this is a good thing. In other ways, I find reading Charyn's latest a challenge.
Good in the sense that Charyn brings Lincoln to life in a way others have not, which makes his book unique and fresh. Told entirely in first person, this Lincoln relates to a modern audience in the way the Lincoln from biographies has never been able to accomplish. The challenge comes in, however, with Charyn's Lincoln possessing what Kirkus Reviews called, "a 21st-century sexual consciousness that at times seems rather jarring."
"I yearned to see her naked, to touch all her parts, to feel her nipples and the fur between her legs." - In reference to Ann Rutledge (page 43)
"I kept dreaming of what lay under all that fine silk, and couldn't get her fat little tail out of my mind, even while I was addressing a jury." - In reference to Mary Todd (page 92)
On the following page Lincoln is concerned his "prick" might brush up against Mary's gown while they dance because he couldn't help his own "horse's pole" inside his pants.
There are other references as the story moves along, but I'm certain this is why this book is a slow read for me. As Kirkus says, these moments are rather jarring. You wonder for a second if you're reading an eloquently written erotic novel. Now that I'm further into the story, wandering amid the Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debates, those moments are farther apart and the pace has picked up.
I appreciate that Charyn is diving deep into Lincoln's personality and bringing the 16th president closer to modern readers than ever before. And I continue to adore Charyn's style of writing. It's simply certain aspects I wish could be toned down.
Have you ever read a book about an iconic personality that surprised you in any way?