by Tom De Haven
Chronicle Books, $24.95
In It's Superman, novelist Tom De Haven brings a freshness to the origin of Superman by setting his story in the past. In the 1930s, in midst of the Great Depression, Clark Kent is a just graduated farmboy in Smallville with powers he doesn't understand, and looking for more from life than being a reporter for the town weekly. Unbeknownst to Clark, his life will eventually become entangled with that of Lois Lane--who is trying to make it as a woman reporter for the New York Daily Planet--and Lex Luthor, NYC Alderman, wannabe crime lord, and would-be captain of industry.
This is an origin story, and Clark doesn't put on his familiar 'S' and cape until close to the end. I've decried origin stories in the past, but by making his novel Clark Kent's bildungsroman De Haven successfully recasts the narrative; and the very last chapter of the book justifies his decisions rather poetically.
De Haven employs present-tense narration for this novel, which normally sets my teeth on edge but in this case works. In fact, it bothered me for a while why present-tense was working so well for the book, and it seemed like an odd choice for a novel set in the past. But then it occured to me that in using present-tense De Haven was employing the same narrative voice that one would find in the comic book adventures of the day, and it all made perfect sense.
This is not a typical novel based on a comic book super-hero; it's a sophisticated and compelling look at a man on his way to meet his destiny, and the world that shapes him.
Rating: 4 (of 5)