Review: Finn

By Jon Clinch
Random House
March 2008

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

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 re-create 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.

The Short of It:

Clinch manages to create a thoughtful, well-crafted tale that centers around Huck’s drunken father, known simply as Finn. Artfully told, yet true to the beloved classic.

The Rest of It:

About this time last year, I was looking for titles to pitch to my book club and came across Finn. I can’t remember where I saw it, but it was a staff pick at one of the indie stores. The staffer had a lot of good things to say about it, but I was skeptical. I was intrigued by the premise, but doubtful. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a timeless classic so I wasn’t interested in reading  anything that would taint my memory of it. However, if the author chose to build upon it…well, that I could see. That’s exactly what Jon Clinch does.

Here’s a passage from The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn as said, by Jim:

It’s a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked too. He’s ben shot in de back. I reck’n he’s ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck but doan’ look at his face–it’s too gashly.

The actual passage is quite a bit longer, but Clinch takes that passage and fills in the details to create Finn, which in and of itself, is its own story. Admittedly, the first half of the book is a bit monotonous. Finn is a simple man on the surface. He spends most of his day fishing, only to trade his catch for whiskey later. The daily routine of a drunkard can be a tad repetitive but in sharing this with us, Clinch gives us a feel for who Finn is. In between these drunken episodes, there are moments of clarity. Moments where Finn shows compassion, or pity…or even intelligence but there are also moments of pure hatred and viciousness. His behavior is almost animal-like in nature, and he is brutal at times.

As for his relationship with son, Huck…there is love there, but there is also a “what can he do for me?” attitude which is brought to our attention early on. Finn’s strength is the ability to immediately assess a situation, to determine what’s in it for him. This rings true for his interactions with several of other characters as well, and there are many wonderful characters in this novel. Finn takes from each of them, what he needs at that exact moment.

Although Clinch remains true to the classic, he does take some liberties with Huck as we know him. I wasn’t sure how I felt about them, but by the end of the story, it all felt right to me.

As far as the actual writing, the story is told out-of-order, and as the story progresses, the pace quickens and each chapter becomes shorter in length. This format was incredibly effective and had me eagerly turning each page to see how the story ended. As the days pass, I find myself thinking about the complexity of such a story and how Clinch managed to pull it off.

My book club is discussing this book tonight. It will be an interesting discussion as there are so many things to discuss. I highly recommend it.

The website for the book is actually quite fun and has THE BEST background music. Check it out here.

Source: Purchased.

27 thoughts on “Review: Finn”

  1. I don’t think you have to read Huck before this book, but it would certainly add to the experience. Now that I’ve read Finn, I want to go back and re-read Huck.

  2. I’m glad u liked this one Ti. I had the audio version but I did not care for the reader, so perhaps I’ll get the print version now at some point. Enjoyed your review.

  3. I think I would be in the same doubting Thomas camp as you. You don’t want anyone messing with Huck. I’m proud that you took a chance! Thanks for sharing the website…very cool!

  4. My brother gave me this book because he knows how much I like Twain’s Huck Finn, but the premise never really captured my imagination and the book sounded dark and dismal.

    >the first half of the book is a bit monotonous
    I was afraid of that…

    >as the story progresses, the pace quickens and each chapter becomes shorter in length. This format was incredibly effective and had me eagerly turning each page to see how the story ended.

    Interesting technique–I can see how that would be effective in terms of building story momentum.

    Maybe if the mood strikes, I’ll give it a go. I had thought about trading it in for something else, but maybe, just maybe…thanks for the review.

    1. After my book club meets tonight, I’ll post their thoughts. This one surprised me. It’s very readable.. even though it dragged a bit in the beginning I never felt bogged down per se. Check out the link I included to the website. Listen to his interview and then you will want to read it for sure. It really took a lot of thought to get this one right.

  5. I bought this book months ago then immediately loaned it to my parents to read because I had plenty of other books to get to; they both loved it. I’ve had it back for a long time but still haven’t gotten to it. Need to move it back up the pile.

  6. I am always fascinated by books that expand upon the classics. I’m not sure that I would have picked this one up on my own, but your review has caused me to think this would be worthwhile. I would especially interested in seeing how the structure of the book contributes to the reading experience.

    I will definitely add this to the TBR pile — with the hopes of re-reading Huck Finn first.

  7. I haven’t read the original book, and I really had no intention to, but now I’m considering it. I’d have to read that one first. And then I’d have to get my hands on Finn. It sounds fascinating.


  8. I don’t know what it is but I love modern re-tellings of old classics whether I have read them or not. Did you see Hester on SA the other day? I was mighty tempted by that and this one looks good to me as well.

  9. I read Huck Finn so long ago. Do you think you could read this book independently wtihout having too many memories of all the details of Huck Finn?

    I love when authors take on classic books like this and give their own spin.

  10. This is a creative twist to Huck Finn’s story that is an interesting detour worth pursuing. I enjoyed your review. Excellent! I bet having the book club made this so much more interesting too.

  11. I looked at this book in the book store and had some of the same reservations you did. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I guess I should have! I think it sounds like a captivating story. And I s’pose it’s not a bad idea to remind people about a great classic & to bring it to the attention of people who aren’t aware of the great story of Huck Finn! Glad you enjoyed this book. I hope your book club discussion went well!

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