We are a nation given over to consumption. The predilection for novelty is everywhere present, not excepting in our art and our literature. For much of my writing life, I believed that the works of the past belonged there. Romantic novels by Hawthorne and Melville or naturalistic ones by Stephen Crane and Frank Norris were to be endured in pursuit of a degree (even if sometimes secretly enjoyed). Once having been examined on past literary achievements, I hurriedly put them behind me in favor of fiction produced by Modernists and Postmodernists. I tended to judge art and literature by its novelty and its stylistic beauties (never mind their worth).
Late in my career, I have taken up the thread dropped forty years ago and am attending to the stories of the American past—that is, of course, how it has come to be known (how it is always coming to be known by successive generations of readers) by its literature. Through my American novels, I hope to understand, a little, the present American era by what came before and shaped its thought, beliefs, prejudices, virtues, vices, and emotional undertow. I want to believe that I am serving a purpose higher than aesthetics, which also has its place in my writing. I love to fashion beautiful sentences, but I hope that they are expressive of the state of my feelings about the world around me and of the truth, as I grasp it, of that elusive world, acknowledging that it is only an approximation.
The literature of the past conferred on readers and writers a larger view. It seems to me that this amplitude of time and space encouraged a corresponding amplitude of theme and purpose. In general, nineteenth-century literature was not small nor did it consider ethical, political, social issues outside the jurisdiction of fiction. It is precisely this old-fashioned grandeur of thought, moral intent, spaciousness, and comprehensiveness—in its breathtaking view of a continent being made and remade—that I hope to emulate in my American novels. Such an ambition is certainly presumptuous, but, with his or her every sentence composed with the intention that it be read, the writer presumes.
*The books of Norman Lock’s The American Novels series include The Boy in His Winter (2014), American Meteor (2015), The Port-Wine Stain (2016), A Fugitive in Walden Woods (2017), The Wreckage of Eden (2018), Feast Day of the Cannibals (2019), and American Follies (2020).