From the prizewinning author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye comes Courting Mr. Lincoln, the page-turning and surprising story of a young Abraham Lincoln and the two people who loved him best: a sparky, marriageable Mary Todd and Lincoln’s best friend, Joshua Speed.
When Mary Todd meets Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the winter of 1840, he is on no one’s shortlist to be president. Rough and reticent, he’s a country lawyer lacking money and manners, living above a dry goods shop, but with a gift for oratory. Mary, a quick, self-possessed debutante with a tireless interest in debates and elections, at first finds him an enigma. “I can only hope,” she tells his roommate, the handsome, charming Joshua Speed, “that his waters being so very still, they also run deep.”
It’s not long, though, before she sees the Lincoln that Speed knows: a man who, despite his awkwardness, is amiable and profound, with a gentle wit to match his genius and a respect for her keen political mind. But as her relationship with Lincoln deepens, she must confront his inseparable friendship with Speed, who has taught his roommate how to dance, dress, and navigate the polite society of Springfield. Told in the alternating voices of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed, and rich with historical detail, Courting Mr. Lincoln creates a sympathetic and complex portrait of Mary unlike any that has come before; a moving portrayal of the deep and very real connection between the two men; and most of all, an evocation of the unformed man who would grow into one of the nation’s most beloved presidents.
Louis Bayard, a master storyteller at the height of his powers, delivers here a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.
Wanted to adore this much more than I did and it almost felt like a chore at the end, which may be more my fault than Bayard’s.
I grab every Lincoln book that I see and afford, watch every documentary, etc, so you might call me an armchair Lincoln scholar. In one way, that works well for the research skills of Mr. Bayard and his research on Courting Mr. Lincoln. In another way, it’s like, deja vu, I’ve read this before or nearly.
To this day, I will not understand the couple that was Mary and Abraham and even though Bayard does a very good job of showing, not telling. it still isn’t enough to explain to me. However, giving Lincoln and Speed’s friendship a voice was like adding paint to a blank canvas, so illuminating, that it alone was worth the price of admission.
If you like historical fiction featuring real-life characters, but don’t happen to be Lincoln obsessed like I am, this is for you.
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