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The Boy in His Winter by Norman Lock

The Boy in His Winter

by Norman Lock

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7819235,808 (3.48)18
"Huck Finn and Jim float on their raft across a continuum of shifting seasons, feasting on a limitless supply of fish and stolen provisions, propelled by the currents of the mighty Mississippi from one adventure to the next. Launched into existence by Mark Twain in 1835, they have now been transported by Norman Lock through three vital, violent, and transformative centuries of American history. As time unfurls on the river's banks, they witness decisive battles of the Civil War, the betrayal of Reconstruction's promises to the freed slaves, the crushing of the Native American nations, and the electrification of a continent. While Jim enters real time when he disembarks the raft in the Jim Crow South, Huck finally comes of age when he's washed up on shore during Hurricane Katrina. An old man in 2077, Huck takes stock of his life and narrates his own story, revealing our nation's past, present, and future as Mark Twain could never have dreamed it"--… (more)



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In the year 2077 Huck Finn reflects back on his life, beginning in 1835 when he and the escaped slave Jim began their raft journey down the Mississippi River. Somehow they became time travelers until Hurricane Katrina shipwrecked Huck back into passing time.

Along the way, they saw America caught in wars, the marvel of electric lighting, and how racism kept its grip on society.

Jim got off the raft in 1960, finding a lynch mob waiting for him. In 2005 Huck meets James, who tries to keep him from harm. As an adult, Huck falls in love with Jameson, who becomes his wife. She writes a novel, The Boy In His Winter. Like Jim, James and Jameson are African American.

What Huck realizes from his vantage point of 85 years is how badly he treated Jim, how he accepted his society's values unthinking, diminishing Jim as a person and as a friend.

"I was bothered that I had come to hate him, bothered even more that I had loved him. I'm not sure that I regarded him then as a man. Not entirely. That broad view of humanity was alien to a mind that had been formed haphazardly, like a shack put together out of old lumber, warped and ill-used.(...)We'd wasted much time when we might have understood what was happening on the raft while we were close in on the river's end, which as not to be the journey's end, as I learned later." Huck Finn, A Boy in His Winter

At the end of his life, Huck returns to his hometown to play act Mark Twain, telling his own life stories. Huck calls his story a comedy, having seen enough for 'three or four lifetimes."

"Haven't you learned by now how fantastic a business it is to be alive?"-Huck Finn, A Boy in His Winter

The novel is episodic, meandering as the Mississippi River, but I was charmed by Huck's narrative, although there is nothing of innocence to be found. Huck is deformed by societal values, pursuing wealth and conspicuous consumption as an adult as thoughtlessly as he accepted slavery in his youth. With a broad overview of American history distilled into one lifetime, and grappling with memory and how the past is altered with our storytelling of it, Huck's tale shows the darkness behind what we remember as Twain's story of boyish freedom.

I received a book from the publisher as part of a LibraryThing giveaway. ( )
  nancyadair | Jun 7, 2018 |
What a wonderful book! I was sent this as a freebie with a requested ARC.

The Boy in His Winter is a story of time travel, philosophy, and Huck Finn. For much of the novel, Huck and Jim are on a raft in the Mississippi floating through time. The writing is precise and poetic where it needs to be. The storytelling is wonderful. The only real issue I have is that I felt it could easily have been a novel twice or even three times the length. It seems Lock jumped a lot of opportunities.

Normally I give books paperbacks away after I read them, but this one has a half dozen beautifully written and thought-provoking lines that I'll want to revisit now and then, so it's a keeper. ( )
  Sean191 | Oct 30, 2017 |
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Launched into existence by Mark Twain, Huck Finn and Jim have now been transported by Norman Lock through three vital, violent, and transformative centuries of American history. As time unfurls on the river’s banks, they witness decisive battles of the Civil War, the betrayal of Reconstruction’s promises to the freed slaves, the crushing of Native American nations, and the electrification of a continent. Huck, who finally comes of age when he’s washed up on shore during Hurricane Katrina, narrates the story as an older and wiser man in 2077, revealing our nation’s past, present, and future as Mark Twain could never have dreamed it.

The Boy in His Winter is a tour-de-force work of imagination, beauty, and courage that re-envisions a great American literary classic for our time.

My Review: Repurposing great works of literature, famous characters from same, and/or dead authors in modern ways and to modern ends is almost overdone as a phenomenon. Really, writers. Stop it.

I said "almost overdone" because, if I know publishing at all, they will collectively ride this hobby-horse's hooves entirely off. There are a few of these cultural appropriations that are enjoyable, of course, it's statistically impossible that such a gigantic amount of work won't produce a shining light now and then. I think of Catherynne Valente's Russian fairy-tale reinterpretation of Baba Yaga in Deathless and grin all over my face. So the tap will continue to drip even after the shower's over. It ain't over yet, though.

It's in that silver river-shine light that I approached The Boy in His Winter. Is this another misappropriation or maladaptation of a novel that's been entwined into the USA's sense of itself? Happily, no...but.

I love author Lock's prose (my copy of the book has 10 Book Darts marking especially lovely passages or especially telling insights). It slides easy, inviting toes to dangle or shoulders to float, gently rocking.
To ennoble is to diminish by robbing people of their complexity, their completeness, of their humanity, which is always clouded by what gets stirred up at the bottom.
That these complex and honeyed words are put in crude, ill-bred Huck Finn's mouth works because we're told from the get-go that he's an old man now and telling his story to an unnamed, depersonalized amanuensis. And I wonder, since the novel's frame is 2077, if that amanuensis isn't some form of AI, which might also account for the fact that Huck (now called Albert, or Al, since rejoining normal time after Katrina) always addresses the unseen being as if responding to questions. Much like a good writer's-amanuensis software would program it to do: "Comes complete with wandering-thought alert and long-silence breaker!"

That I'm conjecturing this, since I wasn't told or shown it in any way, is a source of my itchy lack of satisfaction with the book as a whole. Huck and Jim get on their stolen raft in 1835 and float, magically out of time's reach, until certain points in history, national and personal. I can go there. I can love the trip. My disbelief is suspended from the moment I open this kind of book. But when all the author does with my suspended disbelief is take advantage of it so as not to have to work at explaining his authorial choices...well, pop goes the weasel and here I am with my teeth in my mouth wondering what I was thinking when I started this sentence:
The raft was seized, with a noise like needles knitting, and we were hemmed in for winter -- river and the old channel's oxbow lake having frozen solid. By now, we guessed we were not two ordinary river travelers...it must have been the river that was extraordinary: a marvel that protected us by the same mysterious action that had given a common horse wings and changed a woman into a laurel tree.
I read the author's mind (always a dangerous act) to hear, "I'll make a classical allusion to magical transformations and maybe they'll glide on by the Hows and gaze lovingly at the Whys." Now, don't mistake me, I'm not asking Lock to invent some hard-SF gobbledygook that doesn't belong in this book. What I'm left wanting is a Why that has the power to cause Huck to introspect all through the book, to meditate on the nature of his and Jim's unique experience and how it's made him who and what he is.
{Y}ou make do with what you're given, and I've spent a good many years learning to write fine-sounding sentences so that I can hide behind them. It's the way of the hermit crab, with nothing to recommend it but the pretty shell it annexes for its own.
Don't know about you, but I could use more of this beautiful revelation and on many more topics. Again, I stress that I don't want the book to be something it isn't, some Guide To Life or some kind of Aliens Messed With My Tachyon Bodyspace. I love the concept as it's written. But it isn't doing enough of what it does so well to merit the full five stars I begin by giving every book I am seduced into picking up.

Bellevue Literary Press is to be commended for publishing this life-intersecting-science story in such a beautiful, well-crafted package. Norman Lock is Norman Lock, and doesn't need the likes of me to praise his talent, demonstrated so amply so very often in a long career.

Yet I wanted more than I got of the sweetness he gave. ( )
2 vote richardderus | Apr 17, 2016 |
THE BOY IN HIS WINTER by Norman Lock is, well…different. At almost 200 pages that span over 240 years (with Huck Finn spending the first 170 of those years time-traveling on a raft but rarely leaving it), I'm not sure exactly where the story is supposed to be going; it meanders as much as the Mississippi River and is as full as contradictions as that mass of flowing water. The author is narrating the story as an old man, but the language and reflections are not suited to the 13-year-old he is for much of the tale. In fact, Lock may be a little too much in love with his own words—and those words do not make sense much of the time. There are a few significant happenings, but most of the book seems more like stream-of-consciousness. I'm not sure of the intended audience either. I think the premise lends itself well to middle grade readers, but there is some adult language (sprinkled sparingly) that makes it impossible to categorize it as such. And yet, I do not see it holding the interest of adult readers either. It takes courage to reinvent the Mark Twain Huck we know and I applaud the effort, but it didn't work for me here. ( )
  DonnaMarieMerritt | Jan 3, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In The Boy In HIs Winter, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Jim travel on the raft down the Mississippi except that the raft now travels through time. The story is told in the first person by Huck Finn as an octogenarian in the year 2077. While a strange concept, I did like it and thought that it highlighted some of the similarities between the twenty-first century and the nineteenth century. The drug smugglers in the book, for example, weren't really that much different from the pirates and thieves of nineteenth century fiction. Both were cold, hard men who were using illegal means to rise above their class and circumstance. ( )
1 vote fuzzy_patters | Nov 10, 2014 |
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I reckon I got to light out for the Territory...
-- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
To my grandsons, Max and Drews, and for my father, a sailor who has lit out for the Territory
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I look back in my old age on that long-ago day when I came off the river and began my grown-up life-and much earlier still, when no more than a boy, I set out from Hannibal on the raft with Jim.
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