I see I taste I write Links What?
January 29, 2010


Jon Clinch - ISBN - 9780812977141

Clinch undertakes the development of Huckleberry Finn's father, sketched only briefly by Twain in his 1884 classic. The book is fascinating, and could well stand alone, but is more interesting as a long awaited sequel. The language is elaborate and colorful, almost poetic. He paints "Finn" with infinite grace. I've never read a novel so well constructed and linguistically sophisticated, yet nothing is sacrificed by the erudition. Scarlett, it most definitely is not!

One becomes engrossed after but a page or two as he begins to draw his characters. The plot is wickedly serpentine, but easy to follow as he weaves thru numerous tangents, all in the furtherance of plot. Finn's grandfather and father were talented individuals, high up the regional pyramid, and respected, or at least feared. His brother is a wimp, but assists Finn in many ways, usually with neither knowledge nor consent of their bigoted, racist father, against whom Finn has rebelled his entire life.

He's a clever if cruel drunk; a tormented man who acquires what he possesses thru theft, manipulation, fraud and disingenuity. Amongst his chattels is a slave woman whom he acquires thru blackmail, and moves her to his horrible, previously abandoned riverside hovel. He provides for them as a "river man," largely by fishing, and collecting river-born debris to sell to interested locals. Most of his petty earnings are spent on whiskey.

Finn demonstrates occasional flourishes of hidden kindnesses, but even those are usually self-serving. By and large he is a nasty, irredeemable lout. With Mary, his captured "wife," he sires Huckleberry, who by fate or good fortune is born nearly white, and can "pass." Both mother and son are abused, Mary sometimes viciously. Huck disappears to places unknown.

When Huck and Tom Sawyer find a fortune in gold, Finn undertakes to claim "his" fortune to ease his life and provide himself with better whiskey. In this, as in all endeavors, he is truculent, shifty, and irremediably evil. He influences Huck to return, but eventually Mary and Huck leave. Finn eventually coerces her to return as a trade, of sorts--for leaving Huck alone.

Eventually he murders Mary and is in turn murdered. You'll recollect from the original story that Huck finds his dead father in the remnant of his house, floating down the Mississippi River. Clinch explains all.

The book explores familial damage done to the young by tyrannical fathers; as well the stain of slavery and color, even for freed blacks; and specifically the shame of several generations of the Finn family.

There are characters similar to Finn, along with noble personages and interesting people of all stripes between those poles. The women who undertakes to "mother" Huck--the widow Douglas, you'll remember--is considerate and compassionate, as is his mother Mary, despite her origins and travails.

The descriptions of life on the river in the era are fulsome, interesting, and as captivating as Clemens originals. It won't be confused with a "delightful" novel, but it is powerful, explosive, and memorable. Read it!

Posted by Curmudgeon at January 29, 2010 2:22 PM