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Huck Out West: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2017
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“Huck Out West [is] the latest to emerge from this wild genius’s half-century outpouring of postmodernist books, stories, novellas and plays....Under Coover’s hell-hot pen....this pulsating anti-epic....establishes Huck in exactly the place Twain himself planned to take him.”
- Ron Powers, The New York Times Book Review
“Magical....Among the many elements that Coover imitates so well is Twain’s misanthropy, his macabre sense of humor and his perpetually offended innocence....Indeed, everybody seems to be growing old except Huck, who remains a voice of perplexed kindness, and Coover, who, at 84, is still a miraculously sharp writer.”
- Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“An audacious and revisionary sequel to Twain’s masterpiece. It is both true to the spirit of Twain and quintessentially Cooveresque.”
- Times Literary Supplement
“Coover’s speculations on what happened to Huck after he broke free of his Missouri hometown make for a wildly funny, violently imaginative Western yarn with caustic humor Twain himself might have envied.”
- Tom Beer, Newsday
“A spacious-skies frontier ripsnorter that stands alone as a wildly funny, violently imaginative Western yarn with flamboyant plot turns and caustic humor Twain himself might have appreciated, if not envied....[a] droll yet faithful replication of Twain’s first-person narration.”
- Gene Seymour, Newsday
“Mr. Coover has been one of the country's leading postmodernists. But Huck Out West doesn't deconstruct The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so much as reprise it....as in Twain's original, the winsome humor of Huck's muddytatings lend the story a deceptive innocence.”
- Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Rowdy, funny, and brilliant....It’s not necessary to remember Mark Twain’s classic to enjoy this tale....It’s Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian narrated by the good-natured Huck....Coover takes Twain’s characters and creates a worthy extension of their lives. In doing that, he creates a scathing vision of the violent Westward movement as seen through the innocent eyes of Huckleberry Finn.”
- The Missourian
“An astonishing picaresque novel, narrated by Huck himself in a voice as authentic as Twain's original creation....Huck Out West is simply splendid, raucous, ribald and rib-ticklin'. After fifty years of incredible novels, this is another one of Coover's triumphs.”
- The Providence Journal
“An extraordinary book…a beautifully earnest and direct work from perhaps the most formidable trickster in American letters. Anyone with an ounce of heart in their chests should read this immediately.”
- Alan Moore, author of Jerusalem
“In Huck Out West, Robert Coover brilliantly (and outrageously) revives Mark Twain’s cardinal character by way of deconstructing any number of our cherished myths. Coover is in fine antic form here―truly, Huck never had it so good.”
- T. C. Boyle
About the Author
Robert Coover is the author, most recently of Huck Out West, among many others publications. He is a pioneer in the field of electronic writing and founded the International Writers Project, a freedom-to-write program, at Brown University. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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I found this novel very disappointing - boring, even - and an unworthy successor to Twain's masterpiece. Both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are unlikable characters. Tom has grown up to be a bloviating braggart and huckster with few redeeming qualities. He's got "stile," - or thinks he has - but very little substance. Huck has grown up to be a melancholy drunk who still worships the ground Tom walks on but is passive and ineffectual at making a decent life for himself. Many of Twain's other characters make cameo appearances in the novel: Jim has found Jesus, Becky Thatcher has become a prostitute with a heart of gold, and Tom's old pal Ben Rogers has become leader of a band of robbers.
Not much happens in the book and the narrative is further weighed down by interminable Indian folktales narrated by Huck and his Indian friend Eeteh.
I found very little to recommend in this novel. Read some Twain instead.
Coover's masterful conception of his sequel and the prose he uses to conjure Huck's narrative voice bring insight and pleasure beyond the nimble plot turns. Let's be clear, though: the author skilfully voices Huck in the patois that Twain gave him—but seasons it with his own kind of verbal portmanteau malaprop-technics that antically embroider the imitation. “Moses and the bullrushers” in Twain finds itself congenially swamped with “jeanie-logical ages,” sejestion, leppersy, muddytating, blastemy, hurry-cane and plenty more. If their uncommon sensicalness doesn't register at once, believe me it will in context. This sort of linguistic play is always a strong suit for Coover—in fact his Manifest Dust-in-yer-eye (to echo his 1977 novel The Public Burning (Coover, Robert)).
What about the tone of Huck's new story? Further out west—where “sivilization” is diluted almost to a trace element—the tale is more relentlessly grim and melancholy. Nobody—not army men, gold-rushers or other citizens angling for a living, nor Injuns angling just to survive the influx of settlers—has it very good for very long. As Huck relates his tale and feelings, it's all more consistently downbeat than Twain's story—but damned amusing regardless. The most casual reader—without knowledge of Twain's novel but only an impression of Huck in popular culture at large—will have an amusing good time.
But the more intimate you are with Twain, the richer Coover's antic melancholy achievement becomes. Huck the boy fleeing civilization's strictures is, in his heart, all about a freedom of spirit and life that's not aggressive and grasping. Twain denies him this in the end, but leaves him some promise out in the Territory. When Coover finishes his life in that Territory, there's no place left in America to keep seeking that freedom. Huck and his Indian soul-friend Eeeteh will have to head for Mexico and try again. He leaves behind Tom Sawyer, who exploits civilization unfailingly to his benefit... and who's developed into a perpetually upbeat schemer that may remind you of an incoming! president in these here states.
D.H. Lawrence learnt us (as perhaps only an outsider could): “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” Huck's life, through Coover, shows us the ways in which this is true. But also funny, profoundly funny. I think Lawrence as well as Twain might agree and laugh along. (Twain might even lay off litigating Coover's appropriation of his fictional character, since he was so incensed to do that sort of thing late in life where his literary copyrights were concerned. Having known our history past the end of his own life until now, perhaps he'd finally see the cultural wisdom of letting go. As Huck's dream, in Coover's novel, counsels him: the power of control doesn't help you keep freedom, it only keeps you chasing it while having no freedom to do otherwise. Including recognize that the property you keep grip on isn't the only thing that enriches culture—that's also what's built on it by others. If you feel freer to let them.)
What's the verdict? Just like The Brunist Day of Wrath nearly 3 years ago, Huck Out West is another late-career masterpiece. It's fun as all get-out to read, but much more besides when you start in muddytating on more than its plot. Put it high on your reading list. You won't regret following up on the impulse.