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.