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Lincoln in the Bardo
368 pages; Random House
George Saunders, the recipient of this year's Man Booker Prize, has long been known for his quirky, often comic short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel, has its share of idiosyncrasies, but thematically it's made of darker, more soulful stuff. It's narrated by a host of characters who've been banished to the "bardo," a Buddhist term for a kind of purgatory, and a key figure is President Abraham Lincoln, who keeps returning to a cemetery to visit the grave of his recently deceased son. The novel is a pleasure for the variety of personal stories, but it's the "broken, awed, humbled, diminished" Lincoln himself—who can't reconcile his private grief with his despair over the ongoing Civil War—that makes this book "a devastating fable for our own time."  
— Mark Athitakis