American Follies

Bellevue Literary. (American Novels). Jul. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781942658481. pap. $16.99. F
Lock specializes in a subgenre of historical fiction in which historical characters implausibly interact, concocting situations that bore deep into the accumulated meaning of U.S. history—think Ragtime in a fever dream. In his latest novel, seventh in his “American Novels” series, a young woman who once served as Henry James’s typist goes to work for Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and becomes friendly with the troupe of freaks in P.T. Barnum’s circus. At least two actual fever dreams ensue before the plot goes entirely surreal. It’s here, ironically, that the novel’s theme coalesces, as the group falls into the clutches of the KKK. It seems that when you mix 19th-century racists, feminists, misogynists, freaks, and a flim-flam man, the spectacle that results might bear resemblance to the contemporary United States.
VERDICT Besides playing with historical figures and themes, Lock’s novels stretch the limits of literary conventions. Those unfamiliar with the series may expect more reality with their history, but once you accept that the novel is a wild ride, hang on for the fun. Highly recommended, especially for readers of the series.

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