A scrappy Brooklyn orphan turned vengeful assassin narrates a visionary tale of the American West
In this panoramic tale of Manifest Destiny—the second stand-alone book in The American Novels series—Stephen Moran comes of age with the young country that he crosses on the Union Pacific, just as the railroad unites the continent. Propelled westward from his Brooklyn neighborhood and the killing fields of the Civil War to the Battle of Little Big Horn, he befriends Walt Whitman, receives a medal from General Grant, becomes a bugler on President Lincoln’s funeral train, goes to work for railroad mogul Thomas Durant, apprentices with frontier photographer William Henry Jackson, and stalks General George Custer. When he comes face-to-face with Crazy Horse, his life will be spared but his dreams haunted for the rest of his days.
By turns elegiac and comic, American Meteor is a novel of adventure, ideas, and mourning: a unique vision of America’s fabulous and murderous history.
Lock's latest historical reimagining (after the time-traveling Huck Finn novel The Boy in His Winter) follows an orphan from Brooklyn to the Battle of Little Big Horn, where he irrevocably alters history. Listening to the "clamor of my heart," 13-year-old Stephen Moran enlists in the Union Army as a bugler. His time on the battlefield comes to an abrupt end at the Battle of Five Forks, where he loses an eye, kills a Confederate soldier, and receives the Medal of Honor. While recovering, Moran meets Walt Whitman, who gets him assigned as bugler for Lincoln's funeral train to Illinois. Thus begins Moran's lifelong roving of the West, his spiritual restlessness set against the backdrop of westward-driving America a wild, malformed place that's really Moran's primary antagonist. After riding the nascent railroads and apprenticing for photographer William Henry Jackson, Moran ends up as the personal photographer for General Custer, his story culminating in a bloody finale during Custer's Last Stand. The crafty Moran is a perfect everyman: his na ve, directionless unrest gradually cleaves from the irresponsible aggression of Manifest Destiny, for which Custer becomes a figurehead, and focuses into something far more wise, as readers witness. Likewise, Moran's tall tale is a perfect fit for Lock's storytelling: this feels like a campfire tale, an old-fashioned yarn full of rich historical detail about hard-earned lessons and learning to do right.
Simply WOW! I'd never read anything by this author before, but thanks to NPR heard about this small treasure of a book and glad I did. A moving, well written gem that packs a quiet punch. Well worth your time and thoughts.