cover image Feast Day of the Cannibals

Feast Day of the Cannibals

Norman Lock. Bellevue Literary, $16.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-942658-46-7

Lock flexes a powerful historical imagination in his bleak, transfixing sixth entry in the American Novel series (following The Wreckage of Eden). Shelby Ross recounts his life to childhood friend Washington Roebling, the bedridden chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, as the two look out on the nearly complete project in 1882. Shelby, a 39-year-old former business owner, lost his fortune in an economic collapse. He is hired to work as an appraiser under a dispirited and volatile Herman Melville (whose novels are forgotten and whose marriage is under intense strain) at the New York Custom House. Shelby makes an enemy of John Gibbs, a coarse and mean weigher, but forms a fast, putatively platonic attachment with the effete and timid 20-year-old Martin Finch. Gibbs suspects there’s more than friendship going on between the two men and vacillates between soliciting Shelby himself and attempting to humiliate him, including tricking him into visiting a transvestite brothel where Shelby is assaulted. The second half of the novel jumps forward two years as Shelby explains again in Roebling’s room the nightmarish events that led to his recent incarceration. This historically authentic novel raises potent questions about sexuality during an unsettling era in American history past and is another impressive entry in Lock’s dissection of America’s past. (July)