When Lutheran Minister Robert Winter meets young Emily Dickinson at her botany lesson, he is instantly smitten. Later, he woos her and asks if she might like to leave Amherst and travel with him across the country. She replies that she is happier to comply with her father’s wishes that she never marry ... the writing in this novel is beautiful and the story has verisimilitude, Lock has set himself an impossible task. It’s hard, unless you are Emily Dickinson herself, to make moral ambiguity sing. It is certainly charming to imagine the character of Emily Dickinson as Lock has written her. Sometimes her lines are a bit too clever by half, but he also gives her memorable ones, such as her description of what she is reading as 'one of those books you cannot put down for fear the story will go on without you.' ... I wish I could say the same for The Wreckage of Eden, although the writing is quite lovely and the characters completely believable.
The fifth in Lock’s consistently excellent American Novel series follows army chaplain Robert Winter as he navigates the tumultuous mid-nineteenth century while serving in the Mexican War and, later, at the Mormon Rebellion. He has witnessed man’s inhumanity to man, and his faith is challenged, but he retains in his heart a tenderness for a young, spirited woman back in Amherst, Emily Dickinson ... Although Emily does not return Robert’s affections, Lock skillfully hints at the exuberant and tempestuous mind that will produce hundreds of poems, most of which were not published until after her death.
Narrator Robert Winter is a chaplain in the United States Army in the mid-19th century—giving him a firsthand view of the fracturing of society leading to the Civil War. The novel is structured as Robert’s correspondence with Dickinson, whose ideals and aesthetics serve as a contrast to his own loss of faith ... The novel is enlivened by signs that Robert is, while not an unreliable narrator, possibly a selective one. Several major life events happen to him in passing between two of the book’s sections, and his own (chronologically) first encounter with Dickinson isn’t revealed on the page until a good distance into the book—which, in turn, prompts the reader to re-evaluate some of the pair’s earlier interactions ... As with each installment of Lock’s The American Novels series this work stands on its own entirely well, though readers of his prior books will find connections both thematic and literal ... Lock deftly tells a visceral story of belief and conflict, with abundant moments of tragedy and transcendence along the way.