three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
By: 
Jon Clinch
user_rating: 
0

A-FinnFinn opens with a murder of an African-American woman and then circuitously solves the mystery of it by answering questions tacitly posed by Mark Twain’s classic. Some readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have speculated about the identity of Huck’s mother and wondered what sort of woman would have been intimately involved with Huck’s degenerate brute of a father, "Pap" Finn. In this portrait of Huck’s father, Jon Clinch provides some imaginative answers. A violent, bigoted, and alcoholic ex-con shunned by his family, Finn survives in the Lasseter woods along the Mississippi by catching fish, doing odd jobs, and drinking moonshine. As the murderer’s identity is revealed, so too are the origins of Finn’s tragic contradictions and self-loathing.
Random House. 304 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1400065917

Austin Amr-Statesman 4 of 5 Stars
"Clinch has spoken of his determination to write Finn despite what some saw as ‘the danger of working in Twain’s shadow.’ The book in hand vindicates his courage." Martin Kevorkian

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] ravishing first novel. … In the saga of this tormented human being, Clinch brings us a radical (and endlessly debatable) new take on Twain’s classic, and a stand-alone marvel of a novel." Jennifer Reese

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Finn is a triumph of imagination and graceful writing. The plot is not linear, and that’s confusing at first. Having pieced together Twain’s puzzle, Clinch creates a puzzle of his own." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Clinch reimagines Finn in a strikingly original way, replacing Huck’s voice with his own magisterial vision—one that’s nothing short of revelatory. … This impossibly complicated relationship [between Pap and Mary] is the heart of the novel and a testament to Clinch’s sensitivity, his willingness to trace the threads of passion no matter where they lead." Ron Charles

Newsweek 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Clinch’s riverbank Missouri feels postapocalyptic, and his Pap Finn is a crazed yet wily survivor in a polluted landscape." David Gates

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3 of 5 Stars
"Clinch’s achievement, though skillful, is ultimately undermined by Pap Finn himself. Twain’s Pap, profoundly flawed, remains recognizably human. But Clinch’s is pure evil—a soulless monster who seems less like a denizen of Hannibal, Mo., than a cloven-footed cousin of Hannibal Lecter." Daniel Dyer

Los Angeles Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Dark and often gripping, though marred by stylistic excess and a shortage of pathos. … It begs for a more understated treatment." Steve Almond

NY Times Book Review 0.5 of 5 Stars
"In [Pap Finn’s] place slinks another creature entirely: a tight-lipped killer, a character driven not by his own flawed reasoning but by demons, stalking his son for the $6,000 treasure Huck came by in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, brooding on identity and patrimony. For the universe Pap Finn has landed in is ruled not by Mark Twain but by Cormac McCarthy, whose influence saturates Finn." Ron Powers

Critical Summary

Finn, by first-time author and Philadelphia advertising executive Jon Clinch, is a haunting and sometimes violent novel. By revisiting Huckleberry Finn’s story in a contemporary and explicit way, Clinch’s novel defies us to forget America’s legacy of slavery. Most critics praise Clinch’s courage in exploring the backstory of Twain’s classic and applaud his skill in creating a novel that largely succeeds in its own right; only The New York Times Book Review thought it too derivative. A few other problems tarnished reviews: the Los Angeles Times suggested that a less-sadistic Pap would render the character more believable and that more economical prose would better serve the story.