Finn, by John Clinch (New York: Random House, 2007).
Summary: "In this masterful debut by a major new voice in fiction, Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature's most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn's father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain's classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own. Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body -- flayed and stripped of all identifying marks -- drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim's identity, shape Finn's story as they will shape his life and his death. Along the way Clinch introduces a cast of unforgettable characters: Finn's terrifying father, known only as the Judge; his sickly, sycophantic brother, Will; blind Bliss, a secretive moonshiner; the strong and quick-witted Mary, a stolen slave who becomes Finn's mistress; and of course young Huck himself. In daring to recreate Huck for a new generation, Clinch gives us a living boy in all his human complexity -- not an icon, not a myth, but a real child facing vast possibilities in a world alternately dangerous and bright. Finn is a novel about race; about paternity in its many guises; about the shame of a nation recapitulated by the shame of one absolutely unforgettable family. Above all, Finn reaches back into the darkest waters of America's past to fashion something compelling, fearless, and new."
Opening line: "Under a low sun, pursued by fish and mounted by crows and veiled in a loud languid swarm of bluebottle flies, the body comes down the river like a deadfall stripped clean."
My take: I usually enjoy books that offer a different take on a familiar story, but this one was just so-so. Maybe it's because Twain was never one of my favorites; too many bad "required reading" associations from high school, I s'pose. Maybe it's because the story jumped all over the place temporally, which made it a bit confusing. Maybe it's because the title character was so over-the-top awful (in short, he's a mean, violent drunk and a thief, with a guilty passion for women of color) that it was hard to care much about or believe in what he did. Or maybe it's just because the book's Big Shocking Reveal (Clinch envisions Huck as biracial) just wasn't that big a surprise to me. The writing itself was first-rate, but that alone wasn't enough to get me past not caring much one way or the other about Clinch's subject.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.