This is George Saunders’s first novel, and it has been thirstily anticipated. Since his debut collection of stories, in 1996, his blend of satire, sentiment and linguistic sensibility has made him one of the most acclaimed short-fiction writers in English.

He is a literary celebrity: his last collection, Tenth of December, was published with a 20-page introduction, and the audio book of this novel will be narrated by Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle and more. Yet his strong style means a little of his work goes a long way, and at times Tenth of December, with its familiar stew of pathos and management speak, reads like self-parody.

The language in Saunders’s stories is intense, with little breathing space. He admires sentences that have “been the subject of so much concentration, they [have] become a thing in the world.” So 350 pages of uninterrupted Saunders might be exhausting. Fortunately, it isn’t: Lincoln in the Bardo is a breeze, although that is not an unqualified compliment.

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