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The Wreckage of Eden (The American Novels)…
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The Wreckage of Eden (The American Novels)

by Norman Lock

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Wreckage of Eden by Norman Lock

An opening letter of snarky remorse to Emily Dickinson, whose affections were sought, but not found, by Robert Winter, a chaplain in love during the nineteenth century.

Several times during this book, I stopped, reread, savored, and fully enjoyed a sentence in all its eloquent flow. I love the proper use of language, unadulterated and pure. I am so saddened by our slang and text-altered rendering of communication. Here, in this delicious book, I am treated with the proper, the educated, the long lost vocabulary of English.

Set first in Huamantla, Mexico, after a pillage and plunder “incident” as Emily narrates to Robert, her encounter with a Lieutenant involved in the fore mentioned massacre.

But in a confusing style, Robert will jump in with a paragraph or more, ruminating his thoughts on Emily. No segue, no quotation, no hint as to why he is now reflecting in the middle of Emily’s reflection to him.

Still, the eloquence, even when the rage of battles roar, is evident.

Stateside, he marries and they have a daughter, yet he still pines, but respectfully. She still coyly pens letters and hints upon visits. He writes of his friendship with the Lincoln’s and short-lived marriage to Ruth before (and after) she dies.

Their letters, his mostly, convey history and it’s pertinent characters. Through the Mormon Rebellion civil war, and abolition, all while maintaining an air of slight indifference to their distance, physically and emotionally, he grapples with his own faith and unending love for Emily. ( )
  CherylGrimm | Aug 15, 2019 |
U.S. Army Chaplain Robert Winter had the misfortune of meeting the young Emily Dickinson, for whom he developed a lifelong attachment, one that endured years of separation while he served in several wars, his short marriage, and Emily’s determined resistance. The Wreckage of Eden is his narrative of their history and addressed to Emily. Winter himself decribes it as an argument in the case of Winter v. Dickinson, a sort of Airing of Grievances in their relationship.

Winter is the saddest sort of sad man, a chaplain who has lost his faith. He recounts his service in the Mexican War, the Mormon Rebellion, and at Harper’s Ferry, the abortive slave rebellion led by John Brown. In many ways, he is a man of his time, indifferent to the genocide of the indigenous tribes and while he may note the hypocrisy of calling atrocities by the enemy a massacre while calling our own atrocities a battle, nothing leads him to challenge the presumptions of Manifest Destiny.

He is honest in describing his relationship with Dickinson, a very assymmetric relationship. He is infatuated and made inarticulate by passion. She is oblivious and treats him as a friend and confidante. She is brilliant, her facility with language leaving him tongue-tied and resentful. The reader can only be relieved that Dickinson avoided what would have been a hideous marriage with a man who was made angry by her quicker, brighter wit.

Winter is also the Era of Good Feelings very own Zelig, living in Springfield, Illinois, and befriending Abe and Mary Lincoln. He takes a trip with his wife and has a conversation with a young Mark Twain. He meets Robert E. Lee and John Brown. The movers and shakers of the era show up everywhere in the book. His meeeting with John Brown the night before Brown is hung for his insurrection is critical because it helps him understand his role as a chaplain without faith.

I enjoyed the writing in The Wreckage of Eden. I think Norman Lock did a good job of evoking that time with his use of language. He also did a great job of mirroring the thoughts and phrasing of Dickinson. She came alive in the story.

Nearly ninety years ago, Miguel de Unamuno wrote about a priest who lost his faith but continued to serve his community, giving sermons, leading prayers, baptisms, and last rites while never betraying his loss of faith to the townspeople who got so much succor and security from their religion. Winter is another San Manuel Bueno, Martir, but a resentful martyr, not a willing one like Manuel and Lazaro, his friend who takes over for him after his death. John Brown makes an argument that San Manuel might have made, but for Winter, his continued service as a chaplain does not feel like that of a martyr for his flock, but more the kind of slogging in place of a person who made a bad career choice, but lacked the imagination to change.

I did not like Robert Winter, he does not hide his weaknesses and failings in his narrative, but I sure did like The Wreckage of Eden.

I received a copy of The Wreckage of Eden from the publisher.

The Wreckage of Eden at Bellevue Literary Press
Norman Lock author site
The American Novels series at Bellevue Literary Press

★★★★
https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/the-wreckage-of-eden-by-n... ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Jun 24, 2019 |
Read it for the subject, stayed for the language. The story of Winter, Dickinson, et al is an interesting frame onto which Lock shapes a wonderfully wandering narrative, rich with description, emotional nuance, and beautiful turns of phrase. The kind of book you read just for the love of reading! ( )
  stevenward | Apr 28, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was absolutely thrilled to win The Wreckage of Eden as an Early Review Copy! If you're a Norman Lock fan then you'll definitely enjoy this book. It's consistent with his other works in writing style and tone. But don't worry! It's a stand alone book and you don't have to read the other ones in the series to understand this. If you're a fan of historical, alt-reality books then I'd recommend checking out this book. ( )
  HotWolfie | Aug 30, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was my first read of anything by Norman Locke, and I was pleasantly surprised. Emily Dickinson is the focus of this particular book, which is part of a series this author has written featuring different historical figures. Robert Winter, also an authentic figure from the nineteenth century, narrates this volume, as he serves as an Army Chaplain. The book contains letters Mr. Winter writes to Emily, often professing his affection for her, and his hope for a deeper relationship than the friendship they share. He also reflects on conversations they have had, and writes to her often of his experiences with the Army. He bears witness to many of the conflicts of that time, giving focused attention to the border wars between Missouri and Kansas prior to the Civil War, as well as massacres of Mexicans, Indians, and Mormons. While Reverend Winter and his wife (married after Emily repeatedly ignores his pleas for a more intimate relationship) are living in Illinois, he becomes a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Later he also meets Samuel Clemons, Thoreau, Emerson, and Nat Turner.
The friendship between Reverend Winter and Emily Dickinson extends for many years, throughout his marriage, and after the death of his wife. He discusses her endless battles with her father, and bemoans her ever increasing isolation and hermit type existence.
This author writes in a voice that sounds straight out of the nineteenth century, making this a compelling read, and makes these historic figures come alive through these pages. I hope to read more books by him.
I wish to thank the author, Bellvue Literary Press, and LibraryThing First Reviewers program, for the free copy of this book I was furnished, in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  jhoaglin | Jul 12, 2018 |
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"[Norman Lock's fiction] shimmers with glorious language, fluid rhythms, and complex insights." --NPR When U.S. Army chaplain Robert Winter first meets Emily Dickinson, he is fascinated by the brilliance of the strange girl immersed in her botany lessons. She will become his confidante, obsession, and muse over the years as he writes to her of his friendship with the aspiring politician Abraham Lincoln, his encounter with the young newspaperman Samuel Clemens, and his crisis of conscience concerning the radical abolitionist John Brown. Bearing the standard of God and country through the Mexican War and the Mormon Rebellion, Robert seeks to lessen his loneliness while his faith is eroded by the violence he observes and ultimately commits. Emily, however, remains as elusive as her verse on his rare visits to Amherst and denies him solace, a rejection that will culminate in a startling epiphany at the very heart of his despair. Powerfully evocative of Emily Dickinson's life, times, and artistry, this fifth stand-alone book in The American Novels series captures a nation riven by conflicts that continue to this day. Norman Lock is the award-winning author of novels, short fiction, and poetry, as well as stage, radio, and screenplays. He lives in Aberdeen, New Jersey, where he is at work on the next books of The American Novels series.… (more)

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