“Your husband was so busy killing Indians / He didn’t notice his wife was killing his sons.”
Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex woman with difficult life, she witnessed the death of her 3 young children and the assassination of her husband, as well as the destructive Civil War declared by President Lincoln. She was also likely addicted to pain killers. In “Savage Conversations,” Leanne Howe uses prose to re-imagine the real event of Mary’s involuntarily admission to a psychiatric asylum.
I heard Leanne Howe speak at #LoftWordplay
in May and immediately put this book on hold at the library. She participated in a discussion about character trauma, which comes across in this book both in terms of Mary’s life and Native American trauma, specifically the Dakota people. This is a powerful perspective that does not paint the Lincoln family as saints, which they so often are.
In 2018, I read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders, which also explores the grief of the Lincoln family in losing their son Willie. Like “Savage Conversations,” Saunders uses the form of a play and ghostly characters to tell his story. Yet, comparing these two books is stark. One is sympathetic, one is condemning. I would highly recommend reading them together. Both books are hauntingly sad. Pun intended.