Mark Twain's Famous Outcasts Float Through Three Centuries

Huck Finn and his friend Jim float down the Mississippi through the Jim Crow South and Hurricane Katrina in a new book called The Boy in His Winter. NPR's Scott Simon talks with author Norman Lock.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Huck Finn sails on in Norman Lock's new novel "The Boy in His Winter." He follows Huck and Jim, a pair of literature's most famous outcasts, as they sail through time for three centuries, from the U.S. Civil War through Reconstruction, rural electrification, the virtual extinction of Indian Territory and its inhabitants, through to Hurricane Katrina and into Santa Monica 2077. Norman Lock, who's written novels, poetry, radio plays and won the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, joins us from the studios of WBGO in Newark. Thanks very much for being with us.

NORMAN LOCK: Good morning and thank you very much for inviting me.

SIMON: So how is it Huck and Jim are still around and slipped through time on their raft?

LOCK: Well, my wife and I were caught by Hurricane Sandy. We live just two miles from the bay and near the ravaged coastline. And while lying in bed thinking about the two for nine days, it came to me that they might have an adventure leading out of Hannibal, Miss. in 1835 and passing through key events of the middle 19th century, only to be blown back into time in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

SIMON: Let's get a flavor of it, if we could. If you could read a section where Huck and Jim enter the 20th century.

LOCK: (Reading) "At Baton Rouge, we entered the 20th century. We did so by night. Like thieves stealing into a house, we would ransack for unimaginable treasures and horrors. We knew nothing of what lay ahead on that river in space and in time. Not even Jim's prophetic gifts could enlighten us about the future somber recesses other than we would die in it. But we were entranced as anyone would be who sees for the first time a town made incandescent by Mr. Edison's light bulb.

SIMON: You make no effort to write in that distinctive parlance of Mark Twain. I mean, you have your own distinctive style. But Huck has become a very distinct narrator of the story. Help us understand the judgment you made to proceed in your own literary style.

LOCK: Well, I did not set out to write a parody of Twain's great book. It would be presumptuous of me to parody or satire Twain, the better man. And I wanted to establish immediately that this was something different, that this was something mine.

SIMON: When you first read the book?

LOCK: In 1968.

SIMON: So you were in high school in 1968?

LOCK: Yes.

SIMON: What did the book mean to you then?

LOCK: I might have just been affected by its picaresque quality, its naughtiness. I don't know if I thought deeply when I was 18 of the deeper moral aspects of the book, which is what occupies - preoccupies me now. And maybe because I'm in my middle 60's, maybe now I want to write with a more of a moral purpose.

And I have to be careful when I say that because I don't want to be taken as a self-righteous prick, which I'm not. And I think one of the strategies in "The Boy in His Winter" that I employed was to implicate my Huckleberry in the evils of his time.

SIMON: I must say, you make Huck and Jim so real. You expected to get messages from them on your iPhone.

LOCK: (Laughter) That's quite a complement to one who does not text and does not have an iPhone and does not practice social media.

SIMON: Norman Lock. His new novel, "The Boy in His Winter." Thanks so much for being with us.

LOCK: Thank you. It's been a great pleasure.

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