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The Boy in His Winter: An American Novel by…

The Boy in His Winter: An American Novel

by Norman Lock

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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 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

"The Boy in His Winter" by Norman Lock is subtitled "An American Novel." It is about America and our history, and narrator Huck Finn is an American, but within its 188 pages fantasy and fact prove to be strange bedfellows.

Quite late in his telling Huck says "This story is not about innocence --its loss or maintenance-- but about a child's becoming conscious in and of the world." And what a strange world is his: travelling with runaway slave Jim mainly by boat through geography and history. (One might wonder if it could translate to film.)

This is an unusual book, hard to classify, that merits rereading. ( )
  Esta1923 | Sep 15, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An audacious experiment, Lock posits Huck Finn as a time traveler, his raft becoming a time machine, carrying Huck and Jim down the Mississippi and from the 19th through the 20th and into the 21st century. While on the river, they experience the changes in American civilization - from the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves to the electrification of the nation; from the manmade disasters of the World Wars to the natural disaster of Katrina, during which Huck arrives at the Mississippi Delta. Up to that point, the story is a narrative of quick highlights, including catching up with Tom Sawyer who is a Confederate soldier. Constantly reminding his readers that Mark Twain got it all wrong and he is nothing like the character Huck Finn in the book, Huck weaves his own magical tale of omission, merely skimming across the surface of events.

But once arriving in modern day Louisiana and falling in with a trio of rapscallions, Huck begins a darker journey which he eventually learns includes drug smuggling and lands him in a juvenile home.

The novel is episodic, but each episode floats by like a dream. If you're open to magical realism and an almost pointillistic writing style where the whole is larger than the sum of the parts, then give this a try. ( )
  TheTwoDs | Aug 20, 2014 |
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"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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