cover image Voices in the Dead House

Voices in the Dead House

Norman Lock. Bellevue, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-954276-01-7

Lock (Tooth of the Covenant) delivers immersive accounts of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott during the American Civil War in the evocative latest installment of his American Novels cycle. The two writers work at Washington, D.C., field hospitals in 1862 and 1863, but never meet each another. In parallel interior monologues, Whitman and Alcott bemoan the unsanitary medical practices and reflect on their character flaws, as Whitman battles his narcissism and grandiosity, and Alcott frets over her temper and physical appearance. While Lock portrays how they successfully cared for the soldiers and lifted their spirits—Whitman by talking with them and writing letters on their behalf, and Alcott by serving as a nurse—he also lays bare their historically verifiable ignorance on racial equality, as demonstrated by Whitman openly expressing doubt that emancipation would be worth the sacrifice of so many lives—a thought taken verbatim from his journals and letters. Both Alcott and Whitman bristle at behavior they interpret as insolence or sullenness from Black people in response to their presumed generosity. The landscape and environs of D.C. are memorably described, and Lock’s uncanny gift for reproducing the literary voices of his narrators goes beyond mere pastiche. This insightful double portrait brings both Whitman and Alcott into sharp focus. (July)