53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river
It is hard for me to imagine the audacity it must take for a novelist to choose possibly the greatest novel in American literature as the starting off point for his first novel. It was even harder for me to imagine that such a book could be anything other than a derivative effort that diminished both the original work and the contemporary author...
Published on February 22, 2007 by Leonard Fleisig
26 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mississippi Mud
I tried to read this, but I lasted less than a hundred pages. It is not the concept of a sequel to Twain's magnificent novel that bothered me. That's been done before, to varying degrees of competence, although never to Twain's standard. My problem here is with the writing itself. My attention kept drifting off because of the pecular way this was done.
Published on April 26, 2008 by Roger Long
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river,
It is hard for me to imagine the audacity it must take for a novelist to choose possibly the greatest novel in American literature as the starting off point for his first novel. It was even harder for me to imagine that such a book could be anything other than a derivative effort that diminished both the original work and the contemporary author. I imagined wrong. Jon Clinch's first novel "Finn" is an immensely entertaining and thoughtful novel that takes Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and creates a back-story that takes us into the world of Huck's father, known to the world as Finn.
"Finn" begins and ends with a body floating slowly down the Mississippi. In between, Clinch tells us the story of Finn's life on and near the river. Finn is not a likeable man. For Finn, his life along the Mississippi River is one akin to that portrayed by Hobbes in his treatise "Leviathan". Finn lives in a state of nature and in that state there is "continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Finn, a ne'er do well almost since birth has been cast out "into the river" of life by his father (Huck's grandfather), Judge Finn who, although less physically violent than Finn, is as loathsome a character (to me) as you may ever meet in a piece of fiction. Finn has been cast out because he has fallen into a relationship with a runaway slave girl, Mary. Mary provides Finn with the only real sense of belonging and longing he is ever likely to know. She also provides him with a son, Huck. (Clinch acknowledges Shelley Fisher Fishkin's monograph "Was Huck Black?" in his Author's Note.) Finn's life consists of catching fish, drinking cheap whiskey and moonshine, and struggling with whatever demons a person such as this can conjure. His hatred of slaves, one inherited from his father, cannot rationally coexist with his love (to the extent Finn is capable of that emotion) for Mary.
As the story progresses we are provided with snapshots of characters first brought to us in Huck Finn, such as the widow Douglas and Judge Thatcher. Readers familiar with Huck Finn will see the inception of events that arise in Huck Finn. At the same time, the nature of the relationship between Finn and Mary allows Clinch to discuss some of the same issues Twain did in Huck Finn, the stain of slavery on America's soul and the emotional burden of that stain on those who were touched by it.
It seems inevitable that "Finn" and Clinch will have to bear the ongoing comparison to Huck and Twain. No one can match Twain for his extraordinary feel for idiomatic English or for his ability to tell a story. Clinch is not quite Twain but "Finn" still stands on its own as a terrific first novel. Christopher Hitchens once noted, in connection with an author he had compared to Tolstoy, that even to be compared to Tolstoy with a straight face is a tremendous achievement on its own. Clinch's prose is crisp, his sense of pacing is first-rate, and his characters' voices seem authentic.
After reading "Finn" I found myself with a strong urge to pick up Huck Finn and read it again. I cannot think of a higher recommendation than that. In my opinion, Clinch's 'audacious' efforts did nothing to diminish Huck Finn. On the contrary.
Highly Recommended. L. Fleisig
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant debut by an awesomely talented novelist,
When I first heard about Jon Clinch's book in which he creates a mulatto Huck Finn, almost immediately I wondered if his book had been in any way inspired by Shelly Fishkin's fascinating monologue "Was Huck Black?" Fishkin suggested that Twain based his character on two young African-Americans he knew personally and liked very much, one of them a ten year old boy named Jimmy and the other a youth named Jerry. A lot of their characteristics, not to mention their speech patterns, come out in Huck: Jimmy's sociability, loquatiousness, and total lack of pretension and inhibition, and Jerry's mother-wit and plain common sense. But Clinch has gone far beyond Fishkin's premise; in "Finn", his brilliant first novel, Clinch gives us a Huck Finn who actually is black, or at least half-black, by a slave woman.
Clinch's story is not about Huck but about Twain's immortal creation Pap, Huck's father, a loathsome, illiterate, unwashed drunk who could probably be smelled five miles downwind. In Clinch's book, Finn is the older son and the black sheep of an upper-middle-class Southern family; his father, a judge, hates blacks so deeply that he hires a poor white couple as servants rather than have blacks anywhere near him. Finn has already earned his sire's contempt and disgust as a ne'er-do-well alcoholic, but what cuts him off from the family forever is his relationship with Mary, a runaway slave with whom he not only lives but commits the ultimate abomination of siring a half-breed child, thus, in the eyes of the judge, forever sullying the Finn name.
As despicable as the elder Finn is, at least he is no hypocrite. However brutally blacks were treated in the antebellum South, miscegenation, almost always in the form of master/slave or overseer/slave rape, was so common that there were hundreds of thousands of mulatto offspring of these liaisons ranging from white to black and every shade in between. Clinch gives us a Huck who is like his father in more ways than one; looking enough like him to pass for white and sharing his contempt for school, church, and similar traps of civilization.
But Clinch gives Pap a humanity that was almost totally lacking in Twain's Finn. Finn's relationship with Mary is beautifully presented, showing all the conflict Finn must have felt; loathing her color and despising her race in general, he is hopelessly attached to her; it's a love/hate relationship that is doomed from the start. He treats her like dirt, casually abuses her, and when she escapes down the river with Huck in tow, preferring the literal slavery of life in Missouri to the actual slavery of her life with Finn in Illinois, he goes after them. He can take or leave Huck, or rather he'd much prefer to take Huck's six thousand dollars in gold from Injun Joe's cave and leave Huck, but it's Mary he has to have. And once he has her again, he realizes he can't live with her or without her. The judge's ultimatum decides the question once and for all.
Clinch gives us a Finn who thoroughly lives up to, and goes beyond, Twain's portrayal of Pap as a stumbling drunk. Clinch's Finn is diabolically evil, a trait he came by honestly enough; the fruit didn't fall very far from the tree in this family and Finn's father the judge is one of the most loathsome creations in modern fiction. But where the judge is absolutely untroubled by his conscience, at least Finn seems to have one on the occasions when he's not drunk and raving or drunk and stuporous. He looks into the dark night of his own soul and doesn't like what he sees, but he's powerless to change it, as if he would if he could.
Clinch's writing is brilliant, spare and concise; he has sense enough not to try to out-Twain Twain (only Twain could successfully imitate Huck's, Pap's and Jim's speech patterns), but his characters are totally believable. Clinch also brings in a couple of the characters from Twain's book, Judge Thatcher and the Widow Douglas; they aren't clumsily tacked on but add another convincing dimension to the story. But as much as we appreciate these familiar faces, "Finn" is totally Finn's book. Clinch presents us with a tormented soul both loathsome and pathetic; we almost feel sorry for him as much as we abominate him. And the book's ending is brilliant; we already know from Twain that Huck and Jim will find Pap dead in the house floating down the Mississippi, but how he meets his end is something only an awesomely talented writer like Clinch could conceive.
And what did Finn finally pass on to Huck? Clinch's Huck is his father's son in more ways than one: light enough to pass for white, with his father's shrewd intelligence and his disgust for school, church, and all the other tiresome traps of civilization, and ultimately trapped himself by his black blood in a society that sees blacks as something less than human. But out of spite for the woman he loved and hated, who ultimately left him, Finn lies to Huck about his parentage, telling him that Mary wasn't his real mother but only raised him, and that his real mother was a white woman long dead. By symbolically robbing Huck of his real mother, Clinch says in his Afterword, Finn set Huck free to to pursue whatever fate Mark Twain had in store for him. Twain would have loved it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great novel.,
This novel was a wonderful read. I did find the vocabulary and sentence structure,at times,difficult to comprehend--at the same time I found this to be a postive challenge. The story itself is a great read, with Pap Finn being an extrememly unlikeable man. I respect Clinch's attempt at bringing Pap Finn to life and respect even more his abilty intertwine Twain's Huckleberry Finn with his story of Pap Finn. This will be one that I reread! And of course it makes you want to go and pick up a copy of Huckleberry Finn again too!!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating,
Finn is not an easy book to read because, in its own way, it is even more horrifying than the fantastical books by writers such as Thomas Harris who splash gore around to such a degree that their books lose all sense of realism. The horrible crimes that are committed in Finn, on the other hand, always make the reader cringe simply because they seem to be happening to real people in a real world. As is so often the case in a man like Finn, he is the product of cold and abusive parents who warped him from the beginning. He is in constant rebellion against his father, a town judge who rules his courtroom and his home with an iron fist and who has no more sympathy for his sons than he does for the criminals he sees in court.
Clinch, of course, begins with the world created by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn but he fleshes out that world in a way that Twain himself was unable to do in the period in which he wrote. Using incidents and characters from Twain's book, Clinch provides the back story to Huck's tale that explains much of what Twain had to leave unsaid in the original.
The elder Finn depends on the Mississippi River for his very life. The river provides him with the catfish that he sells or exchanges in town for the supplies that keep him alive. More importantly to Finn, it is the sale of those same fish that make it possible for him to consume the amount of alcohol that makes life worth living for him. Equally important, the Mississippi is always there to cover a man's sins and, as the book begins, one of those sins, a dead woman who has been skinned, is floating down the middle of the river toward town. But since Finn is a psychopath this is hardly the last of his crimes that the reader will witness.
The most controversial aspect of the novel is Clinch's contention that Huck was a mulatto whose mother had been purchased off a steamboat in slave territory and taken back to Illinois against her will. That Huckleberry Finn was a black child is not a new theory, and Clinch has made that possibility the centerpiece of his novel. That fact alone determines the ultimate fate of not only Finn but of Mary, Huck's mother, and it leads to the complete moral collapse of Judge Finn.
This may not be an easy book to read, and I don't feel that I should say that I enjoyed it, but it is definitely one that will stay with me for a while. I've read many books that I can barely remember any details of just a year or two later. Finn is in no danger of becoming one of those.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What if,
This review is from: Finn: A Novel (Paperback)
When Ray Bradbury speaks to writers, he offers them this pearl: The notion of 'What if.' 'What if we actually colonized Mars?' 'What if the government in future generations decided books were subversive?' Bradbury was encouraging writers to "think outside the box" before the expression was popularized. I love Finn for this reason, among many, because Jon Clinch considered the character of Huck Finn and asked himself, 'What if...?' Of course, in order to pull off the creation of Huck's gene pool, it was critical that he know Huck, really know him, and Twain, and the culture which Twain embodied. Clinch does, and his resultant novel is nothing less than brilliant.
This is no breezy read. It is a literary work of deep dimension, meticulously, lovingly crafted. I was shocked to learn that the novel was written in under six months--but let us not forget how quickly Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying. I suspect, though, that at times, the spirit of Finn was channeling through Clinch; as Alice Walker has told us, sometimes the characters just want to shove the writer out of the way and accomplish the work themselves. Indeed, one of the most endearing devices in this work is the flow of the dialogue. Page after page, it is absolutely spot on. "I know it."
I love this novel. And I hated Finn. And yet, somehow, he finally had my sympathy. If you read it, be prepared to enter Finn's world, to be held under the water of the river for a time, where it is dark and cold... But oh, what a rich experience it will be in the end.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calling All Twain Fans...,
If you're a Mark Twain fan like me, then Jon Clinch's auspicious debut, FINN, is a must-read. The novel takes a small character who looms large in Twain's original, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and makes of him a full-fledged protagonist. This is where we remind everyone that a "protagonist" by definition is a "lead character" and not necessarily "the good guy." In other words, Pap Finn makes for a most antagonistic protagonist, and readers will be so compelled by his dark thoughts -- and darker deeds -- that they will continue turning pages until they arrive "down river" (morally, I mean).
I like how Clinch wove in actual scenes from the master's original, then provided the point of view missing from Twain's book. For instance, we get to hear the thoughts of Finn when he finds his cabin empty and his erstwhile captive son gone with blood strewn all over the premises. In the 19th-century work, we follow Huck and admire his young ingenuity in using pig's blood to simulate a murder. Here, we stay with Finn who knows a thing or two about deception himself, and watch the terrible wheels begin to turn as he plots the inevitable recapturing of his son.
The book does take a few jumps in time and includes two black women who must be kept careful track of (Clinch joyfully jumps in when it comes to Twain's well-known fascination with "doubles"), so you must proceed with care. The narrative, almost regal in its omniscient choice of diction, is a stark contrast to Finn's own words as presented in his dialogue and his thoughts; this juxtaposition proves not only effective but almost necessary, given the graphic brutality of some of the scenes depicted.
All in all, this is quite a coup. Clinch creates an old-fashioned feel to a modern-day work and the reader buys in. Of specific interest is the Author's Note at the end, which anticipates any lingering worries and complaints, most specifically about Huck's bloodlines. I don't agree with it, but I certainly respect Clinch's artistic right to play this riff on a theory first put forward by Shelley Fisher Fishkin in the monograph entitled "Was Huck Black?"
Hats off, then (and why not -- a hat proves an important prop at this novel's end), to Mr. Clinch. This book will satisfy Twain scholars and everyday readers alike. Mark (sic) my words.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best characterization of evil that I've read in a while,
I love historical novels, and was drawn to this book by the good early reviews. Also, the author's daring attempt to write this backstory to an American classic was equally intriguing.
What I wasn't ready for was my reaction to the book's main character, Pap Finn. I found myself repelled by Pap like no other character, save perhaps Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. I really hated this guy!
I've read a few of the reviews that rated this book poorly, perhaps because those readers were also aghast at Pap's portrayal, and some of the unsavory events that inevitably occur. I would suggest to the prospective reader that they look beyond Pap's evil, to the times that this book represented, and consider perhaps a world that Twain understood but could only suggest.
This is the best historical novel I've read since Cold Mountain.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The debut of a major talent,
It takes guts to co-opt a character from Mark Twain.
It takes skill to do it brilliantly.
Drawing inspiration from a few brief scenes in Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Clinch tells the story of Finn Sr., Huck's father, as lost a soul as ever wandered literature. Disenfranchised by white society, filled with both lust and hatred for black, he's a cruel and violent drunk that destroys everything he might love. Yet Clinch writes him with a subtle empathy that balances scenes of horror and desperation against moments when Finn earns our pity and even our respect.
As deft as the character development is, more inspiring still is the language -- evocative, elegiac, and hypnotic, it brings to mind the work of Cormac McCarthy, yet strikes a path all its own. Highly recommended.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A character's journey,
Truth be told, it's hard, so hard, to stir up any sense of sympathy for Pap, Huck Finn's father. In Twain's masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pap is a mean drunk, prone to whipping our narrator, and without a decent shred of life in his body. When it appears that Pap is drowned, there isn't a tear shed, but moreso, a sign of relief from the reader knowing that Huck is freed of such a henious character.
So it is surprising that Jon Clinch attempts to take such a man and give his his own story in the equally surprising novel "Finn". Clinch fleshes out the character of Finn, and provides seemingly reliable motives and motivations for the things that he does. He is a raving alcoholic. He wants Huck's money. He struggles with his place in his own family, with a "good" brother that's seemingly not so good. Pap moves from a flat to a round character with ease.
But perhaps moreso that I adore Huck, and want to trust his version of events, I never truly gave myself over to Finn. There was always a part of me that was held in reserve, never fully giving into his tale of woe. I think that part of me, that part of all of us, so wants to protect dear Huck, so that he can make his journey of discovery on the Mississippi, so that he can escape the clutches of his life.
Finn is a book that demands your attention. It's not light reading. Clinch's writing style is hard, evocative, and he makes he sentence count. It's an impressive debut, and no doubt, one of many to follow.
There seems to be a recent trend in liteature to tell alternate stories from the ones that we love. I adored "March", the telling of Mr. March of Little Women, and loved "Wicked" as well. Does this portend a lack of orignial ideas? Or does it speak to the yearning to return again to those books that we love, in a new and different way? Time will tell.
In the meantime, after finishing "Finn", I returned to Huck again, in all of his youthful glory, and joined him on his raft. And if that is the result of this book, then by all means, I encourage more of this type of novel in the future.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging study of character, time, and place,
Jon Clinch's "Finn" is a great debut even taken as just being about the grotesque human who is Huck's infamous father. That said, this novel also provokes many thoughts on slavery-era America and human relationships in general, with Twain's familiar character, "Pap" Finn, as the conduit.
Most poingant are the relationships of the protagonist with others in the book's slavery-era society. Finn is a bad seed from the start, to be sure, but why does he become the utterly loathesome character he is in this story? How does he reconcile the love that at times shows through for Mary, the escaped slave woman he's taken up with, with the hatred that society, and most notably his father, hold for his interracial relationship? Those questions are answered, and I'll be considering those answers for some time to come.
"Finn" is an engaging, well-written novel. I highly recommend reading it.
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Finn: A Novel by Jon Clinch (Paperback - March 11, 2008)