Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Fugitive in Walden Woods

Norman Lock is no stranger to historical fiction and A Fugitive in Walden Woods is, in fact, his fourth in what the author calls his “The American Novels” series.  The first three books in the series are: The Boy in His Winter (based upon Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn); American Meteor (an “homage” to Walt Whitman and William Henry Jackson); and The Port-Wine Stain (the author’s tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Dent Mütter).  Lock uses each of the books in the series to remind the reader that the greats of the past he writes about were human beings just like the rest of us, people who struggled with their own weaknesses and circumstances just as mightily as we all do in this more modern world.  Doing so reminds readers just how special were the accomplishments of Lock’s central characters, and will likely lead to a renewed and even greater appreciation of their work and lives.

A Fugitive in Walden Woods features a handful of American transcendentalists in the mid-1840s, men like Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Lloyd Garrison.  Among these greats of their time, the author inserts a runaway slave from the South, one Samuel Long, a man so desperate for freedom that he is willing to chop off his own hand rather than to remain shackled to the fence post to which he is bound.  Lucky enough to stumble into the hands of the Underground Railroad, Long eventually lands in Massachusetts where he is placed into the care and protection of Emerson.

With Emerson’s help, Samuel Long is installed in a shack in Walden Woods, a relatively remote location that Emerson and his friends hope will keep Long safe from the “man-hunters” who have made a brutal art of returning runaways to their owners in the slave states.  As luck would have it, Long’s nearest neighbor is none other than Henry David Thoreau who is living alone in Walden Woods as he prepares the journal that will soon enough become Walden, Thoreau’s much-studied classic account of that experience. 

A Fugitive in Walden Woods primarily focuses on the relationship between Long and Thoreau.  Understandably, Long is slow to trust the motives and hidden thoughts of white men, but almost despite himself, the slave develops an admiration for the almost innocent honesty with which Thoreau expresses himself and presents himself to those he encounters along the way.  Thoreau, on his part, admires the strength and courage he sees in Samuel Long and treats the man as his equal, nothing more and nothing less.  As the relationship between the two men develops over the months, Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods comes to life for the reader just as Samuel Long himself comes-of-age in his own new world.

The real beauty of books like A Fugitive in Walden Woods can be best expressed in a quote Samuel Long recalls in conversation with Emerson or Hawthorne – he is not entirely sure which it actually was: “Reading is our recompense for having only one life to live.”   Norman Lock has given his readers the chance to live a different life than the one they know best.

(Review Copy provided  by Publisher)

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