Jon Clinch’s Finn captured time, place, and character with great clarity, but it was to a time that I’ve never wished I’d lived, a place I’ve never wanted to be, and a character I wouldn’t ever want to associate with. But I think that is to be expected when you set out to write a book about Huckleberry Finn’s father.
Clinch descriptions of Finn throughout the book are so vivid that I could practically smell him as he poled his skiff down the river or lay naked on his sagging porch. Not that I would want to—we should be grateful that books do not encompass all of the senses (or as Chris suggested “no scratch-n-sniff, please!”). I’m not sure my olfactory glands could take it.
The element that I like best about a re-telling is that we get to know a character that was only developed to a certain point in the original story. The father in Little Women is seen as a fully realized person in Geraldine Brooks’ March rather than just a largely absent character; Anita Diamant's Dinah in The Red Tent tells her own rich story rather than getting a mere mention in the Old Testament; and Mr. Darcy becomes so much more in numerous sequels, prequels, and re-tellings than just the proud and prejudiced character Jane Austen presents us in Pride and Prejudice (More on Mr. Darcy in future posts—suffice it to say that my daughter and I want I Heart Mr. Darcy t-shirts!)
Finn tells a side of Mark Twain’s story by both embellishing on the original and by forging new paths. I wanted to learn more about how Finn became as he is, but I was disappointed to learn that his problems stemmed largely from his father’s disapproval. His father doesn’t approve of anything his son does or doesn’t do—he hates his rather shiftless lifestyle, his excessive drinking, and his passion for black women (phrased ever so much differently in Finn—note that if you are offended reading things that are not politically correct by today’s standards, this book will bother you).
I wanted there to be a reason that perhaps I might pity Finn, but alas, he’s just a horrible person, and I haven’t even mentioned the two crimes around which the plot revolves. For that you have to read the book. When you do, let me know if you found redeemable qualities in Finn, the character, that I missed.