Louis Bayard has written an historical account of Lincoln and his relationships with the two people that were probably the most influential in his life—Mary Todd and Joshua Speed. The novel is arranged with each chapter alternately narrated by Mary and Joshua.
Mary Todd is portrayed as an intelligent, politically conscious young woman who challenges society’s expectations of how someone her age, and her gender, should conduct themselves. She goes to live with her sister in Springfield with the intention of finding a husband. Her vitality makes her a standout at social gatherings. She is approached by several eligible suitors, but it’s an exceptionally tall and awkward budding politician that catches her eye. What eventually turns into a courtship is the heart of this novel. The narrative follows their secret liaisons, break ups and make ups. And the story could begin and end there, except for an additional angle added to the plot—the character of Joshua Speed.
Speed is a dry-goods store owner that begins as Lincoln’s landlord and becomes his most intimate friend. The two share a bed (which was not uncommon in those times), conversations of bachelorhood and life—they become best friends. Speed acts as somewhat of a mentor to Lincoln, providing the reader with insight into another side of the man.
As Lincoln’s interest in Mary deepens and the relationship with Joshua progresses, a triangular relationship develops—it almost becomes a question of “who’s courting who?” The reader follows each character as they navigate their way through expectation and desire.
Atmospheric as well as fascinating, Courting Lincoln is written so illustriously that it transports the reader to 19th century Illinois—muddy streets and all—in beautiful and detailed prose. An absorbing read, this novel would appeal to any reader that enjoys a period piece, an abundance of atmosphere, strong character development, and a good love story.Read-alikes: