Norman Lock is known for writing novels that reimagine United States history. He typically uses historical figures as protagonists, but in this novel he creates a fictional character to carry the story.
The central theme of Lock’s “American Meteor” is Manifest Destiny, the political principle that the United States was destined to stretch from coast to coast. This attitude helped fuel western settlement, Native American removal and war with Mexico. Lock helps readers understand this concept by telling the story of orphan Stephen Moran as he makes his way from his native Brooklyn across America to The Battle of the Big Horn.
Thirteen year-old Stephen enlists in the Union Army as a bugler. His military career is cut short when he loses one eye in an explosion. After receiving the Medal of Honor for military service Moran uses the medal pragmatically to achieve entry into many clandestine and intriguing situations.
For example, while recovering from his injuries, Stephen meets Walt Whitman who finds the young man a job as a guard on President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train. After the funeral in Springfield, Illinois, Moran’s adventures take him West where he apprentices for photographer William Henry Jackson.
He assists Jackson as he photographs epic events in America’s history such as the joining of the transcontinental railroad with the golden spike. Moran eventually becomes the personal photographer of General George Custer whom he soon learns to hate. He also gets to know and come to admire Crazy Horse, one of Custer’s opponents.
Moran describes both Crazy Horse and Custer as American meteors… “men fated to burn brightly, only to be extinguished in the cold sea of time and…the forgetfulness reserved for legendary men and women, whose true character— good or bad—lie buried beneath the sediment of stories told about them.”
Moran grows spiritually restless as he observes the detrimental effects of Manifest Destiny on Native Americans, wildlife, prairies and other victims. His early naïve and directionless thoughts and feelings eventually focus until Moran unleashes a scathing critique of the irresponsible aggression of Manifest Destiny.
As Moran matures, he reflects on his own racism, on the seduction of untamed power—the dark side of Manifest Destiny. Moran’s reflections explore the grand theme of transcendence as well as the grit and depravity of the period. “American Meteor” is a tall tale, with a fascinating mix of historical facts and sound teachings.
Fabulist Lock is a prolific writer, publishing a short novel on some aspect of American history almost every year. His plots and stories raise important questions about loyalty, race, social progress and the definition of truth. Lock uses Stephen Moran, a larger-than-life figure, to grab the attention and admiration of the reader and draw the sensitive reader into self-examination.
“American Meteor” is a fable filled with adventure, ideas and questions. It presents a unique vision of the fascinating and murderous westward expansion of the United States and ends with a sobering lesson.
This quick 200-page read is published by Bellevue Literary Press and is suitable reading for older youth and adults. The novel includes history, fiction, comedy and elegy and challenges the reader to examine the American story and to search for not what is true, but for what is truth.