cover image The Port-Wine Stain

The Port-Wine Stain

Norman Lock. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-942658-06-1

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)