Alternate course for Lincoln

IMPEACHMENT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. By Stephen L. Carter. Knopf. 516 pages. $26.95.

This fascinating novel clearly falls into the genre of historical fiction, but it would be more properly categorized as alternate history. The premise is that Lincoln survives the Booth attack, only to face an impeachment trial that inspires the title and occupies most of the action.

Of course Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was impeached. Parts of some of the impassioned tirades delivered by counsel on both sides of that trial find their way into this fictional trial. Indeed, the bulk of the background characters are actual historical figures.

The lead character is an intelligent young black woman with a degree from Oberlin who becomes a law clerk in the law offices of the firm representing the president. Stephen Carter, in his author’s note, defends this unlikely circumstance by citing the existence of a small black middle class, stating, “Business ownership was not unusual, and not a few held college degrees and were trained professionals. And so an ambitious and well-educated young woman like Abigail Canner could indeed have traveled in the circles she does in my story and dreamed of involvement in great events.”.

The result is a stimulating amalgam that lies between history and historical fiction. The pure history is well-known and somewhat depressing. Straight fiction would lack the bite of authenticity. This alternate history combines the best of both worlds and draws the reader into a realistic tale that makes for a very readable (and informative) story.

This novel provides an intriguing “What if ...” story that is spellbinding. Carter is a master storyteller who can embed his tale in an accurate historical setting. This is an imaginative, readable and highly enjoyable novel that will both entertain and educate.

Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier is a retired engineer from Hanahan.