Jon Clinch's Finn
is a brave and ambitious debut novel inspired by Mark Twain's masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
It fully imagines the life of Huck's violent, alcoholic and bigoted father. It stands on its own while giving new life and meaning to Twain's novel, which has been stirring passions and debates since 1885. READ AN EXCERPT: Enter Finn's world Finn
raises a question: Will a novel that is set in the 19th century and that repeatedly uses the n-word, as did Huck himself, be embraced in the more racially sensitive 21st century?
I hope it is. Finn
is a triumph of imagination and graceful writing. It's a puzzle built on clues that Twain left at Pap Finn's murder scene.
To discuss the genius of Clinch's novel requires disclosure of a crucial surprise in the plot. Readers who wish to experience that surprise for themselves should skip the next paragraph.
Clinch invents Huck's mother. She's a resourceful escaped slave, known only as Mary (as Huck's father is known only as Finn). She's both lover and property, a story as old as America itself.
One of the novel's lovely ironies is that Mary, unlike Finn, can read.
When she reads poetry to him in his squatter's shack on the banks of the Mississippi, "she seems to him in her fluency a creature from some other place and time or an instrument shaped by the Almighty so that a long-dead cavalier poet might whisper his incomprehensible arcana into the mind of a benighted illiterate riverman."
Finn loves whiskey as much as he seems to hate blacks, despite his liaison with Mary. His bigotry is the only thing he has inherited from his father, an imperious judge. Finn is a primitive brute yet yearns to be someone he is not.