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From the American Novels series, volume 8

by Norman Lock

Pub Date: July 6th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-942658-83-2
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Lock’s new novel sends Nathaniel Hawthorne on a metafictional, metaphysical journey.

In the latest book in his American Novels cycle, Lock explores one especially fraught familial connection situated in the country’s past. Nathaniel Hawthorne was the descendent of John Hathorne, one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. Aside from a framing sequence featuring Hawthorne, much of this novel consists of Tooth of the Covenant, a book he's writing in which Isaac Page, his fictional alter ego, journeys back in time to confront his infamous ancestor and avert the tragedy of the trials. It’s a multilayered sort of metafiction, one whose casual narrative complexity—uncanny dreams also play a part here—echoes Lock’s work in A History of the Imagination (2004) and The Boy in His Winter (2014). Initially, Page's misadventures in 1692 suggest a 19th-century version of numerous time-travel narratives in which someone out of their proper time wrestles with a new status quo. Lock also adds a few winks at the reader, as when Page waxes ecstatic about Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” Rather than confronting Hathorne, however, Page grows distracted by the society around him and the prospect of romance. Gradually, he moves from being a progressive, liberating figure to one beset by ominous visions and prone to retrograde, offensive statements—and who ultimately ponders reconciling with, rather than rebuking, Hathorne. In showing Page’s gradual shift, Lock illustrates the ease with which some idealists can become reactionaries—and chronicles an uneasy metaphysical struggle in author and character alike.

A distinctive and ambitious foray into literary history.