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The Port-Wine Stain
     

The Port-Wine Stain

by Norman Lock
 

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“Mesmerizingly twisted, richly layered.” —New York Times Book Review

“[Norman Lock’s fiction] shimmers with glorious language, fluid rhythms, and complex insights.” —NPR

In his third book of The American Novels series, Norman Lock recounts the story of a young Philadelphian, Edward Fenzil, who, in

Overview


“Mesmerizingly twisted, richly layered.” —New York Times Book Review

“[Norman Lock’s fiction] shimmers with glorious language, fluid rhythms, and complex insights.” —NPR

In his third book of The American Novels series, Norman Lock recounts the story of a young Philadelphian, Edward Fenzil, who, in the winter of 1844, falls under the sway of two luminaries of the nineteenth-century grotesque imagination: Thomas Dent Mütter, a surgeon and collector of medical “curiosities,” and Edgar Allan Poe. As Fenzil struggles against the powerful wills that would usurp his identity, including that of his own malevolent doppelgänger, he loses his mind and his story to another.

Norman Lock is the award-winning author of novels, short fiction, and poetry, as well as stage, radio, and screenplays. His recent works of fiction include the short story collection Love Among the Particles, a Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year, and three books in The American Novels series: The Boy in His Winter, a reenvisioning of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition hailed for “make[ing] Huck and Jim so real you expect to get messages from them on your iPhone”; American Meteor, an homage to Walt Whitman and William Henry Jackson named a Firecracker Award finalist and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; and The Port-Wine Stain, an homage to Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Dent Mütter. Lock lives in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Lauren Christensen
The reader is just as spellbound by Lock's story as Edward is by Poe's, the narrator initially wary but eventually surrendering to Poe's infectiously morbid fiction. Echoes of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Freud's theory of the uncanny abound in this mesmerizingly twisted, richly layered homage to a pioneer of American Gothic fiction.
Publishers Weekly
04/25/2016
Lock has made a specialty of reimagining the American literary past: earlier works in what he calls the American Novels series took up Huck Finn and Walt Whitman (The Boy in His Winter and American Meteor, respectively). Now he fictionalizes Edgar Allan Poe, who takes the story’s narrator on a tour of darkness—the dark side of 1840s Philadelphia and the more nefarious workings of the human mind. When he meets Poe, naïve young Edward Fenzil becomes obsessed with him, readily falling under his “dark enchantment,” and as he tells the story 30 years later, it is clear that this moment has shaped his worldview, his life’s trajectory, and his sense of self. Poe plays rough—briefly shutting Fenzil up in a coffin, for instance, so he can pick Fenzil’s brain about the experience—but still Fenzil cannot tear himself away from Poe. In the language of the time, there is an affinity between them, but for Lock, that electric linking is also found in the power of story, which, as Fenzil says, functions as “a hook, a barb.” Indeed, Poe’s most lasting effect on Fenzil comes through a tale he writes (ably concocted by Lock). The problem here is that as a storyteller Fenzil lacks Poe’s concision: there is too much foreshadowing, too much rumination on the nature of evil, free will versus fate, and the sciences of mesmerism and phrenology. Yet this is a worthy volume in Lock’s American Novels series, and readers will find him to be an ideal guide for a trip into the past. (June)
From the Publisher

Praise for The Port-Wine Stain

Library Journal “Top Indie Spring Fiction” selection
Vol. 1 Brooklyn “Year of Favorites” selection

“Lock’s novel engages not merely with [Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Dent Mütter] but with decadent fin de siècle art and modernist literature that raised philosophical and moral questions about the metaphysical relations among art, science and human consciousness. The reader is just as spellbound by Lock’s story as [his novel’s narrator] is by Poe’s. . . . Echoes of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Freud’s theory of the uncanny abound in this mesmerizingly twisted, richly layered homage to a pioneer of American Gothic fiction.” —New York Times Book Review

“Lock deftly evokes time and place in The Port-Wine Stain, avoiding the pitfalls of historical fiction as a genre. His novel is wrapped in the art, science, and culture of mid-nineteenth-century Philadelphia but truly captivates in the storytelling.” —Fine Books Magazine

The Port-Wine Stain is quite simply beautifully worded and would appeal to the average reader or an aficionado of Poe’s particular brand of deliciously expressed horror.” —MedHum Fiction | Daily Dose: Adventures at the Intersection of Medicine and Literature

“An enthralling and believable picture of the descent into madness, told in chillingly beautiful prose that Poe might envy.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Powerfully complex. . . . The Port-Wine Stain fits perfectly with the previous two [American Novels books]: The Boy in His Winter and American Meteor. By picking a moment in U.S. history and inhabiting it with the real-life characters that defined the age, Lock allows his readers to explore the development of national identity.” —Shelf Awareness for Readers

“As lyrical and alluring as Poe’s own original work, The Port-Wine Stain captures the magic, mystery, and madness of the great American author while weaving an eerie and original tale in homage to him.” —Foreword Reviews

“This chilling and layered story of obsession succeeds both as a moody period piece and as an effective and memorable homage to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[A] worthy volume in Lock’s American Novels series, and readers will find him to be an ideal guide for a trip into the past.” —Publishers Weekly

“Solid. . . . Effective.” —Booklist

“Engrossing.” —Historical Novels Review

“Shivery-good.” —Small Press Book Review

Praise for Norman Lock & the American Novels series

“[Walt Whitman] hovers over [American Meteor], just as Mark Twain’s spirit pervaded The Boy in His Winter. . . . Like all Mr. Lock’s books, this is an ambitious work, where ideas crowd together on the page like desperate men on a battlefield.” —Wall Street Journal

“Sheds brilliant light along the meteoric path of American westward expansion. . . . [A] pithy, compact beautifully conducted version of the American Dream.” —ALAN CHEUSE, NPR on American Meteor

“Make[s] Huck and Jim so real you expect to get messages from them on your iPhone.” —SCOTT SIMON, NPR Weekend Edition on The Boy in His Winter

“[Lock’s fiction] shimmers with glorious language, fluid rhythms, and complex insights.” —JANE CIABATTARI, NPR

“One of the most interesting writers out there.” —Reader’s Digest

“A master of the unusual.” — Slice magazine

“One could spend forever worming through [Lock’s] magicked words, their worlds.” —Believer

“[Lock’s writing] lives up to Whitman’s words . . . no other writer, in recent memory, dares the reader to believe there is a hand reaching out to be held, a hand to hold onto us.” —Detroit Metro Times

“Lock is a rapturous storyteller, and his tales are never less than engrossing.” —Kenyon Review

“One of our country’s unsung treasures.” —Green Mountains Review

“Our finest modern fabulist.” —Bookslut

“A master storyteller.” —Largehearted Boy

“[A] contemporary master of the form [and] virtuosic fabulist.” —Flavorwire

“[Lock’s] window onto fiction [is] a welcome one: at once referential and playful, occupying a similar post-Borges space to . . . Stephen Millhauser and Neil Gaiman.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“[Lock] is not engaged in either homage or pastiche but in an intense dialogue with a number of past writers about the process of writing, and the nature of fiction itself.” —Weird Fiction

“Lock’s work mines the stuff of dreams.” —Rumpus

“You can feel the joy leaping off the page.” —Full Stop

“Lock writes some of the most deceptively beautiful sentences in contemporary fiction. Beneath their clarity are layers of cultural and literary references, profound questions about loyalty, race, the possibility of social progress, and the nature of truth.” —Shelf Awareness

“Lock plays profound tricks, with language—his is crystalline and underline-worthy.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Lock] writes beautifully, with many subtle, complex insights.” —Booklist

“[Lock] successfully blends beautiful language reminiscent of 19th-century prose with cynicism and bald, ugly truth.” —Library Journal

“Lock’s stories stir time as though it were a soup . . . beyond the entertainment lie 21st-century conundrums: What really exists? Are we each, ultimately, alone and lonely? Where is technology taking humankind?” —Kirkus Reviews

“All hail Lock, whose narrative soul sings fairy tales, whose language is glass.” —KATE BERNHEIMER, editor of xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, and Fairy Tale Review

“[Lock] has an impressive ability to create a unique and original world.” —BRIAN EVENSON, author of Immobility and A Collapse of Horses

“Lock is one of our great miniaturists, to be read only a single time at one’s peril.” —TIM HORVATH, author of Understories

Library Journal
★ 04/15/2016
In this third in the "American Novels" series (set in 1844 and as polished as its predecessors, The Boy in His Winter and American Meteor), an impressionable young Philadelphian named Edward Fenzil reveres both surgeon Thomas Dent Mütter, a collector of medical oddities, and gothic master Edgar Allan Poe. Increasingly identifying with a murderer whose ghastly skull he has received as a prank, Edward sees himself in Poe's story "The Port-Wine Stain" (down to a presumed stain on his check) and accuses Poe of stealing his life. VERDICT An enthralling and believable picture of the descent into madness, told in chillingly beautiful prose that Poe might envy.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-03-16
Doppelgängers, literary intrigue, unhealthy obsessions, and a secret society of the death-obsessed menace a young man in this novel of 1840s Philadelphia. Lock's novel is structured as a long remembrance told by an aging doctor, Edward Fenzil, working in Camden, New Jersey, in 1876. The story he tells is about his life in Philadelphia 32 years earlier, when he worked as an assistant to Thomas Dent Mütter, a surgeon fond of medical oddities, and became acquainted with Edgar Allan Poe. Gradually, Poe initiates Fenzil into an subculture of people who work with death. Fenzil's mind begins to fray as he becomes fixated, first on Poe and then on his newly discovered doppelgänger. Both the presence of Poe and the fact that this is a long monologue by a not-necessarily-reliable narrator add an abundance of tension to the proceedings. Occasionally, the tone becomes dreamlike, as in a story told by a cohort of Poe's about the fate that befell the captain of a slave ship. This is the third in Lock's American Novels series: works that harken back to 19th-century history and culture. Each is self-contained, though readers of Lock's earlier American Meteor (2015) will note that the "Moran" to whom this novel is told is that novel's protagonist. (This book's chilling final sentence has a secondary meaning for those who have read its predecessor.) Beyond the presence of Poe, other literary figures hover on the book's margins—the framing story includes several mentions of Walt Whitman, and in his acknowledgements, Lock notes the influence of John Berryman's Dream Songs on one structural aspect of the novel. This chilling and layered story of obsession succeeds both as a moody period piece and as an effective and memorable homage to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781942658061
Publisher:
Bellevue Literary Press
Publication date:
06/14/2016
Series:
American Novels Series
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
1,069,218
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author


Norman Lock is the award-winning author of novels, short fiction, and poetry, as well as stage, radio, and screenplays. He has won The Dactyl Foundation Literary Fiction Award, The Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, and writing fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lock’s recent works of fiction include the short story collection Love Among the Particles, a Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year, and three books in The American Novels series: The Boy in His Winter, a reenvisioning of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition hailed for “make[ing] Huck and Jim so real you expect to get messages from them on your iPhone”; American Meteor, an homage to Walt Whitman and William Henry Jackson named a Firecracker Award finalist and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; and The Port-Wine Stain, a “mesmerizingly twisted, richly layered” (New York Times Book Review) homage to Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Dent Mütter.

Lock lives in Aberdeen, New Jersey, where he is at work on the next books of The American Novels series: A Fugitive in Walden Woods, his homage to Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Wreckage of Eden, his homage to Emily Dickinson, and Feast Day of the Cannibals, his homage to Herman Melville.

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