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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.