Tag Archives: Fiction

Review: Finn

Finn
By Jon Clinch
Random House
March 2008
320pp

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.

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Review: Under the Dome

Under the Dome
By Stephen King
Simon & Schuster Adult
November 2009
1088pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

The Short of It:

King fans rejoice! In my opinion, this is King’s return to the writing that so many of his fans fell in love with years ago.

The Rest of It:

I grew up with King. I spent many a night reading his books. Under the covers, flashlight in hand, I would open to that first page with great anticipation and I was rarely disappointed. However, as the years passed, King’s writing changed. Perhaps he got too big but I felt that he lost that touch that made his books so real. That funny sense of irony. Something. In my opinion, none of his more recent works could even come close to The Stand so I stopped reading him for a while.

When Under the Dome was released, many readers compared it to The Stand, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m so glad I did! Apparently he started to write Under the Dome back in the early 70’s but wasn’t confident with what he had written so it got shelved until 2007, when he decided to pull it out again. Basically the premise is simple, some unknown force field comes down upon the small town of Chester’s Mill. What isn’t so simple is the impact that this has on weather patterns and the environment and how it affects the inner workings of the town. I know you are thinking of The Simpson’s Movie right about now, but this is sooo not the Simpsons and remember, King started this book way back in the 70’s. In an interview though, King does mention the Simpsons and how he didn’t learn of the movie until after his book was in galleys.

Going into details would give parts of the story away, but what I will say, is that King’s vision of small town life is vivid…so real. Each character is so distinct and different from the other characters. King’s portrayal of the town leader, Jim Rennie is so right on the money that when Big Jim speaks, you just want to reach into the book and slap him. He’s a typical politician but the mannerisms, the holier than thou attitude…it all leaps off the page. We learn who these people are, we know their insecurities. It’s like looking into a window as you walk by a house. We see things that we shouldn’t, and although some of the story is a bit predictable, that’s okay because in the end, these are folks that we care about.

With this book, I see a vulnerability that I haven’t seen in a King book in a really long time. Sort of like, he was testing the waters. Not the big-time writer writing up another bestseller, but it was as if he really wanted his “constant readers” to feel good about this one. I do feel good. As grim as the subject matter was, I feel good about reading it because this is the King that I have been missing for a long, long time. One example of this is his inclusion of a character list at the beginning of the book. There are dozens of characters yet I never had to use that list. I knew who each one was and what they were about yet King wanted to make sure of that. I found that interesting.

I know that a lot of folks avoid King because some of his writing is pretty graphic. This one has some graphic scenes and a few may cause your gag reflex to go into overdrive, but compared to his other books, I felt this one was pretty mild. It’s the “end of the world as we know it” type of violence that is caused by mass hysteria…shootings, rapes, suicides, etc. There is some language too, but not nearly as much as his other works. When people grow desperate, they get ugly. You just have to know this going in.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. Mainly because it’s the return of the storytelling that I missed so much, but also because it was quite a chunkster and I had an entire week to consume it. There is nothing quite like diving into an epic novel, knowing that you have all the time in the world to savor it. Is Under the Dome as good as The Stand? No. However, it does have the same feel to it and readers that enjoyed King’s older works will enjoy this one.

Source: Purchased.