The Boy In His Winter

By Norman Lock

(Bellevue Literary Press, $14.95, 192 pages)

Who is this author?

Norman Lock, an author who lives in New Jersey, has won an Aga Khan Prize from The Paris Review and a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has published novels, short fiction, poetry and stage, radio and screen plays. His books include “Love Among the Particles”, a Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year.

What is this book about?

What if Huck Finn’s iconic antebellum journey with Jim down the Mississippi River didn’t end when Mark Twain’s classic novel reaches its conclusion? What if Huck and Jim, never aging and living outside history, instead travel through time together till 1960 on their raft and witness Civil War battles, the murderous onslaught against Native Americans, the failed legacy of Reconstruction, the horror of Hurricane Katrina and much more? In Norman Lock’s imaginative and brilliant riff on Twain’s great American novel, Huck tells us his new stories and does not leave us until he is an old man in 2077, inviting us to recall the original novel and to review American history with a fresh eye.

Why you’ll like it:                 

It takes a brave and highly skilled author successfully to put his own spin on a beloved, if controversial, classic. By all accounts, reviewers say Lock has done an admirable job, even if the concept of Huck Finn as a time traveler seems outré at first. Twain’s youngster on the river gave us a sometimes humorous, often poignant and ultimately courageous perspective on the ingrained racism of mid-19th century America. Lock’s inspired take on Huck’s life from that point on shows us that racism is sadly and apparently inextricably entwined in our history.  This is a provocative and challenging book.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Inspired by Mark Twain and propelled by the currents of the Mississippi River, this is a tall tale that Lock has abducted and handed over to Huck Finn. In Lock’s fantastical iteration, Huck and his old friend Jim set off from Hannibal, Mo., in 1835 and raft through the rest of the 19th century. Along the way they meet Tom Sawyer, grown up to become a Confederate soldier, view piles of Union dead, and help a Choctaw chief die with dignity. Jim is inconsolable when he hears John Wilkes Booth has shot Abe Lincoln. By the time they reach Baton Rouge, they’ve entered the 20th century, with horseless travel and the first motion pictures. The time travelers make their way through American history without aging a day, until Jim decides to leave the raft in 1960, sure that it is a good time to reenter the world. (Sadly, he seems to enter the world of To Kill a Mockingbird, fatefully breaking up a chiffarobe for Mayella Ewell.) Huck, still 13, almost makes it to New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina finally blows him from myth into real time. “I can feel my cells divide,” Huck says, reinventing himself as Albert Barthelemy and continuing his journey with a couple of smugglers and a black man who happens to be named James. Albert makes sure things turn out pretty well for himself as a grown man—he’s the author of his own destiny, after all—before he reveals that his beautiful black wife (whose name happens to be Jameson) has written an illustrated children’s book about the adventures of a boy named Albert, calling it A Boy in His Winter. Lock plays profound tricks, with language—his is crystalline and underline-worthy—and with time, the perfect metaphor for which is the mighty Mississippi itself.”

Kirkus Reviews says:  “The latest from distinguished elder statesman Lock, winner of the Aga Khan Prize from the Paris Review, is an eclectic hybrid of literary appropriation, Zelig-like historical narrative, time-travel tale and old-style picaresque. It’s narrated in 2077 by an octogenarian Huckleberry Finn, who meandered down the Mississippi alongside his stalwart friend Jim for 125 years, from 1835 until 1960, remaining miraculously unchanged by time. Along the way, they drifted southward through the Civil War (Tom Sawyer has a cameo as a Confederate officer, and Jim is photographed at Vicksburg); the uprooting and massacre of Native Americans (they play a role in allowing Cochise to die with dignity); the electrification of the country (which they encounter when they enter the 20th century around Baton Rouge); and the Jazz Age. Jim, trying to wait until racism has either passed away or grown less virulent, leaves the raft in 1960; after a brief excursion into the world of To Kill a Mockingbird, he discovers there’s no outlasting that particular viciousness. Huck, who’s followed his old companion, ends up having to stand by helplessly as Jim is lynched. He staggers back to the raft and meanders for nearly another half-century, until Hurricane Katrina spits him ashore in a storm-battered south Louisiana necropolis, a landing that at last jars him back into time. Over the next seven decades, an aging Huck serves as an accomplice to a group of marijuana smugglers; lands in juvie; becomes a flashy, globe-trotting yacht broker; marries an African-American woman who writes novels for children; and makes a late-life return to Hannibal, Mo., where he exacts a kind of revenge on his “creator” by playing the elderly Mark Twain, “river pilot and raconteur,” at a riverside amusement park. The philosophical and literary musings are inventive, and Lock manages to make the combination of brevity and tall-tale looseness mostly work. But for all its charms, the book ultimately seems pretty diffuse.”


Says NPR: “Finn and Jim set out from Hannibal, Mo. on a July afternoon in 1835 aboard a raft. But this is not Mark Twain’s tale: In Norman Lock’s brief and brilliant fabulist novel . . . , Huck and Jim sweep down the Mississippi toward the Gulf of Mexico as though in a dream, caught in mythic time. “We were held in the mind of the river, like a thought,” Lock writes. . . .

“Huck narrates from the perspective of old age, in 2077, questioning all the way, acknowledging early on that while he is writing a time-travel novel, he has “no adequate theory to explain why the raft was able to travel through time. . . .

“By reconceptualizing Twain’s 1884 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to include three centuries — from slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and onwards — Lock raises questions about why we struggle still with the notions of freedom and justice. The “Territory” Huck lit out for in 1835 has developed, Lock writes, into “a nation of pleasure seekers; not all, of course, but enough to form a constituency with strength to pervert the virtues of democracy.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says:  “I always wondered why Mark Twain didn’t number the last chapter in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Instead, he titled it “Chapter the Last.” Was it so we’d be discouraged from ever thinking of Huck as anything more than that mischievous kid we’d come to know and love?

“Regardless of Twain’s reasons, any author picking up where Twain left off is an audacious literary move, one Norman Lock has made with his most recent — and 15th — book of fiction, “The Boy in His Winter.” Though in truth, to call it a work of fiction is to tell only part of the story. This book is as much a treatise on memory and time and the nature of storytelling and our collective national conscience as it is a novel in the sense “Huckleberry Finn” is.

“….There is no shortage of rhetoric on the nature of time and our memories in these sections, much of it wildly funny and extremely intelligent, and most often Lock’s prose matches his purpose to wicked effect. But if you come to this book expecting a yarn like you got in high school when you were assigned “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” you will end up finding something else in “The Boy in His Winter.”

When is it available?                                      

No time travel required: this book is now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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