Finn

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Overview

In this masterful debut by a major new voice in fiction, Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of...

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Overview

In this masterful debut by a major new voice in fiction, Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.

Along the way Clinch introduces a cast of unforgettable characters: Finn’s terrifying father, known only as the Judge; his sickly, sycophantic brother, Will; blind Bliss, a secretive moonshiner; the strong and quick-witted Mary, a stolen slave who becomes Finn’s mistress; and of course young Huck himself. In daring to re-create Huck for a new generation, Clinch gives us a living boy in all his human complexity–not an icon, not a myth, but a real child facing vast possibilities in a world alternately dangerous and bright.

Finn is a novel about race; about paternity in its many guises; about the shame of a nation recapitulated by the shame of one absolutely unforgettable family. Above all, Finn reaches back into the darkest waters of America’s past to fashion something compelling, fearless, and new.

Praise for Finn
“A brave and ambitious debut novel… It stands on its own while giving new life and meaning to Twain’s novel, which has been stirring passions and debates since 1885… triumph of imagination and graceful writing…. Bookstores and libraries shelve novels alphabetically by authors’ names. That leaves Clinch a long way from Twain. But on my bookshelves, they'll lean against each other. I’d like to think that the cantankerous Twain would welcome the company.”
USA TODAY

“Ravishing…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. Grade: A.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“A fascinating, original read.”
people

“Haunting…Clinch reimagines Finn in a strikingly original way, replacing Huck’s voice with his own magisterial vision–one that’s nothing short of revelatory…Spellbinding.”
WASHINGTON POST

“Meticulously crafted…Marvelous imagination…The Finn of Clinch’s novel is certainly a racist villain but also psychologically disturbed and disconcertingly compelling.”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“From the barest of hints in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Clinch has created a fully believable world inhabited by fully realized characters. Clinch treads dangerous ground in making one of America’s greatest novels his jumping-off point, but he brings it off magnificently…The language of this book is one of its great beauties…Finn is far from one-dimensional, and that is another beauty of the book. Clinch has a knack for putting us squarely inside the heads of his characters….Clinch draws as compelling and realistic a picture as any we’re likely to find…Finn stands on its own. The richness of its language, the depth of its characters, the emotional and societal tangles through which they struggle to navigate add up to a portrait of life on the Mississippi as we’ve never before experienced it.”
dallas morning news

“His models may include Cormac McCarthy, and Charles Frazier, whose Cold Mountain also has a voice that sounds like 19th-century American (both formal and colloquial) but has a contemporary terseness and spikiness. This voice couldn’t be better suited to a historical novel with a modernist sensibility: Clinch’s riverbank Missouri feels postapocalyptic, and his Pap Finn is a crazed yet wily survivor in a polluted landscape…Clinch’s Pap is a convincingly nightmarish extrapolation of Twain’s. He’s the mad, lost and dangerous center of a world we’d hate to live in–or do we still live there?–and crave to revisit as soon as we close the book.”
newsweek

“I haven’t been swallowed whole by a work of fiction in some time. Jon Clinch’s first novel has done it: sucked me under like I was a rag doll thrown into the wake of a Mississippi steamboat…Jon Clinch has turned in a nearly perfect first book, a creative response that matches The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in intensity and tenacious soul-searching about racism. I wish I could write well enough to construct a dramatic, subtle and mysterious story out of careful, plodding and unromantic prose, but for now I’m just happy to have an alchemist like Jon Clinch do it for me.”
BOOKSLUT

Finn strikes its most original chords in its bold imagining of possibilities left unexplored by Huckleberry Finn.”
austin american-statesman

“An inspired riff on one of literature’s all-time great villains…This tale of fathers and sons, slavery and freedom, better angels at war with dark demons, is filled with passages of brilliant description, violence that is close-up and terrifying…Everything in this novel could have happened, and we believe it… so the great river of stories is too, twisting and turning, inspiring such surprising and inspired riffs and tributes as Finn.”
new orleans times-picayune

“A triumph of succesful plotting, convincing characterization and lyrical prose.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS

“Shocking and charming. Clinch creates a folk-art masterpiece that will delight, beguile and entertain as it does justice to its predecessor…In Finn, Clinch expands the bloodlines and scope of the original story and casts new light on the troubled legacy of our country’s infamous past.”
new york post

“In Clinch’s retelling, Pap Finn comes vibrantly to life as a complex, mysterious, strangely likable figure…Clinch includes many sharply realized, sometimes harrowing, even gruesome scenes…Finn should appeal not only to scholars of 19th century literature but to anyone who cares to sample a forceful debut novel inspired by a now-mythic American story.”
atlanta journal-consitution

“What makes bearable this river voyage that never ventures far beyond the banks is the compelling narrative Clinch has created. He writes exceedingly well, not with the immediacy Twain imbued to Huck's voice, but with an impersonal narrator’s voice that almost perversely refuses to take sides. And the plot is masterful.”
fredericksburg freelance-star

“Disturbing and darkly compelling…Clinch displays impressive imagination and descriptiveness…anyone who encounters Finn will long be hautned by this dark and bloody tale.”
hartford courant

“Jon Clinch pulls off the near impossible in his new novel, Finn, which brings Huck's dad to life in all his terrible humanness…Clinch vividly paints the origins of the amazing Huck...powerfully told.”
winston-salem journal

“Gripping…he inventively remaps known literary territory…the descriptive riffs are lucent.”
chicago tribune

“The best debut so far of 2007.”
men’s journal

“Inventing Huckleberry Finn’s father using only the thin scraps of information that Mark Twain provided is a pretty admirable feat, and reading Jon Clinch’s first novel provides an almost tactile pleasure…Clinch clearly respects Twain, but he doesn’t feel especially cowed by his inspiration, and some of his inventions qualify as genuine improvements on the original text.”
washington city paper

“In this darkly luminous debut…Clinch lyrically renders the Mississippi River’s ceaseless flow, while revealing Finn’s brutal contradictions, his violence, arrogance and self-reproach.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“Bold and deeply disturbing. . . A few incidents duplicate those in Twain,
but the novels could not be more different; instead of Huck’s unlettered child’s voice,
we have an omniscient narrative, grave, erudite and rich in the secretions of adult knowledge;
terse dialogue acts as an effective counterpoint. All along, Clinch’s intent is to probe the nature of evil . . . a memorable debut, likely to make waves.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED review

“Every fan of Twain’s masterpiece will want to read this inspired spin-off, which could become an unofficial companion volume.”
LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED review

“This is a bold debut that takes a few tentative steps in tandem with the familiar Twain,
but then veers off dexterously down a much more insidious, harrowing path.”
BOOKLIST

“Jon Clinch’s first novel Finn…succeeds wonderfully because its gritty lyricism is at once authentic and original…reminiscent at times of Cormac McCarthy…the eloquence of the telling will never make the courageous reader wish for a gentler touch. Like any appealing novel, Finn achieves the force of a dream with fascinating actions, indelible characters and spellbinding language. Its author is wily, astute and wise… Finn is a challenging and rewarding exploration of the suffering human heart. From the ominous shadow that was Pap Finn, Clinch has fashioned an unforgettable, twisted man and a marvelous novel.”
ROANOKE TIMES

“Next month Clinch makes his publishing debut with Finn, taking up where Mark Twain left Mr. Finn 120 years ago: dead in a room surrounded by such mysterious oddities as a wooden leg, women's underclothing, and two black cloth masks. It’s a great read.”
–Knoxville News Sentinel

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
Admittedly, part of the dark thrill here is "finding out" the back story that fans of Huckleberry Finn have long wondered about -- Who would ever have had a child with Pap? How did he end up naked and dead on that floating house? -- but this isn't just a creative appendix to an American classic. Clinch reimagines Finn in a strikingly original way, replacing Huck's voice with his own magisterial vision -- one that's nothing short of revelatory.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this darkly luminous debut, Finn, the namesake of the title, is not Twain's illustrious Huck, but Huck's father, "Pap." As the novel opens, an African-American woman's bloated corpse floats downriver from Lasseter, Ill., toward the slave territory of St. Petersburg, Mo. In the Lasseter woods, Finn-a dangerous, bigoted drunk-tells his blind bootlegger friend, Bliss, that he's finally "quit" his on-again, off-again African-American companion Mary, the mother of Finn's second son (also, confusingly, named Huck). Chronically short on money, Finn is shunned by his father (Adams County Judge James Manchester Finn) and by his brother, Will. Finn does odd jobs, traps catfish and claims tutelary rights to Huckleberry's share of Injun Joe's gold. (In this last, he is thwarted by Widow Douglas and Judge Thatcher, high-handed and stifling as ever.) The opaque in medias res narrative then backs up to detail Finn and Mary's life together: his drinking, his stint in the penitentiary following an assault (sentenced by his own father), Mary's rising debts and Finn's attempts at restitution. As the nature of the woman's murder becomes clear, Clinch lyrically renders the Mississippi River's ceaseless flow, while revealing Finn's brutal contradictions, his violence, arrogance and self-reproach. If Clinch's debut falls short of Twain's achievement, it does further Twain's fiction. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Working from a few tantalizing hints in Mark Twain's text and building on recent trends in Twain scholarship, first-time novelist Clinch fleshes out the shadowy figure of Huckleberry Finn's father, known as Finn. In Clinch's version, Finn is the black sheep of his family—a barely literate drunkard who supports his habit by trading catfish for whiskey. His father is a bigoted circuit court judge, and his brother is an unctuous attorney. Finn lives in a rundown cabin on the riverbank with his beautiful black mistress and their pale mulatto child, Huck, but he knows that to reconcile with his father he must sever all ties with the woman. Clinch meticulously follows Twain's lead, concocting plausible backstories for the Widow Douglas and the Thatcher family and reconstructing the circumstances of Finn's death based on the clues that Huck's friend Jim found in the original novel. The Mississippi River is a character in its own right, prominently featured in each chapter. Every fan of Twain's masterpiece will want to read this inspired spin-off, which could become an unofficial companion volume. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/06.]
—Edward B. St. John
Kirkus Reviews
The Finn in question is not Huck, but his father, a "strange sad monster" in newcomer Clinch's bold and deeply disturbing work. Bad as he was in Twain's masterpiece, here Pap Finn has ballooned into something far worse: "Incarnate personal evil." Clinch eschews a linear narrative, looping back and forth between time periods; he aims to cast a wide net, pillorying not just one individual but the pathology of racism. That began with Pap's own father, Judge Finn, who paid double for a white servant to avoid proximity to blacks. Pap inherits the racism while hungering for black women, the choicest of forbidden fruit. The woman who lasts the longest is Mary, stolen by Finn off a sternwheeler. He locks her up in a cabin on the Judge's grounds until they're discovered and banished; Finn strangles the tattletale responsible (his first murder). Finn and Mary move to a ramshackle house by the Mississippi; a savvy riverman, Finn runs his trotlines, sells his fish and spends the proceeds on whiskey. In time, Mary gives birth to Huck, who can pass for white, a huge relief to Finn. A few incidents duplicate those in Twain, but the novels could not be more different; instead of Huck's unlettered child's voice, we have an omniscient narrative, grave, erudite and rich in the secretions of adult knowledge; terse dialogue acts as an effective counterpoint. All along, Clinch's intent is to probe the nature of evil. Mary and Huck briefly escape Finn's drunken reign of terror and are taken in by the Widow Douglas; Finn reclaims them and strangles Mary in her sleep, then skins her like a rabbit. Much later, Finn scribbles incriminating drawings on his walls; whether or not they show a conscience at work, theywill lead directly to Finn's own murder by another black woman, his next intended victim. Despite needlessly confusing chronology, a memorable debut, likely to make waves. Agent: Jeff Kleinman/Graybill & English Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400065912
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/20/2007
  • Pages: 287
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Clinch
A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Syracuse University, Jon Clinch has taught American literature, has been creative director for a Philadelphia ad agency, and has run his own agency in the Philadelphia suburbs. His stories have appeared in John Gardner's MSS. magazine. He and his wife have one daughter.

Biography

Revisiting and reinventing the classics is always a tricky maneuver. Sometimes the results are a fabulous success, like Wicked, Gregory Maguire's smash-hit riff on L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. However, Jon Clinch's first novel is perhaps even more daring than Maguire's bestseller, as it uses the beloved tale of Huckleberry Finn as its inspiration and hones in on its darkest character. The resulting novel is gruesome and penetrating in ways that Mark Twain surely hadn't imagined. Former American literature teacher Clinch turns in a provocative, compelling, and thoroughly original debut with Finn, the back-story of a villain that makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Mary Poppins: Huckleberry Finn's father.

While the character of Finn, Huck's dad, was a relatively minor one in Twain's classic original, Clinch uses this dark figure as a springboard to address a number of complex themes, including race, slavery, and the often difficult relationships that exist between fathers and sons. In Finn, readers learn the full history of the most thoroughly evil character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Clinch frames his novel with the decidedly macabre image of a flayed corpse, chronologically ping-ponging throughout to create a Byzantine plot structure owing much to Faulkner, one of Clinch's admitted literary heroes. Throughout Finn, we learn of Finn's father, known only as "the Judge", a man so utterly racist that he pays double for white slaves so that he does not even have to associate with blacks on a slave-master basis. We learn of Finn's relationship with his slaves, his ingrained racism fueled by his desire for black women. We also learn that such a relationship resulted in the birth of Huck.

An undertaking as audacious and icon-shattering as Finn was not without its detractors. Clinch says that some rather prominent authors tried to dissuade him from writing the novel, saying that it would be impossible to skirt the heavily cast shadow of Twain. However, the author was determined to tackle the weighty project that was inspired by a disturbing image that had stuck in Clinch's mind for a long, long time. "Ever since I first read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I've been haunted by the image of that dead man in that floating house," he revealed in an interview on his website. "It was just too creepy. And upon rereading the book more recently it seemed to me that the scene's place in the novel (just where Huck and Jim's story starts taking off) conspires with its anonymity (the corpse isn't identified as Finn's until the end of the book) to keep readers from giving it too much attention."

While some might find the very idea of Finn to be bordering on blasphemous, Clinch remained greatly revert toward Twain while composing the book. "My intent was always to honor the imaginative world that Twain created in Huck Finn rather than enslave myself to the details of geography or history. Some scenes from Huck replay whole in Finn, except for point of view and subtext. Some scenes that Twain only sketched or suggested -- Finn and the professor from Ohio, Finn and Judge Stone -- are fleshed out fully. Other scenes that my narrative required -- Finn's discovery of Huck's escape from the squatter's shack, for example -- called for interpreting the events of Huck in new ways."

The resulting novel had been creating quite a buzz in the publishing industry for some time, and now with its publication, it is beginning to receive flattering notices, Publishers Weekly proclaiming it a "darkly luminous debut" and Kirkus Reviews concurring that it is "a memorable debut, likely to make waves." No doubt such statements affirm Clinch's daring decision to take a chance on re-interpreting one of the most important and beloved novels in American literature.

Good To Know

While Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is obviously the chief inspiration for Clinch's Finn, he says he was also influenced by novels like Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, which all re-imagine the stories of characters from classic literature (Beowulf, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, respectively).

Another inspiration for Finn was Shelley Fisher Fishkin's fascinating, controversial analysis Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices. Although Clinch admits that he did not actually read Fishkin's book, he says that he knew of it as a respected piece of literary analysis and was intrigued by the idea that Huckleberry Finn may have been of mixed-race.

Jon Clinch is not only an attention-grabbing first novelist, but he is also an experienced ad-man who ran his own advertising agency in a suburb outside of Philadelphia.

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Clinch:

"Fresh out of college I became a high school teacher. I taught Advanced Composition and American Literature for three years. I won the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year award within a week of fending off an attempt by my superintendent to fire me for being too demanding of students -- at which point I realized that teaching was perhaps not for me."

"The inspiration for Finn came directly from my first, youthful reading of Twain's book, particularly the house that Huck and Jim found afloat on the Mississippi, bearing a corpse whose identity would remain a mystery until the end of the novel. When I returned to that scene as an adult, it seemed to have grown even creepier and more evocative than I'd remembered. The walls, covered all over with words and pictures in charcoal. The men's and women's clothing. The wooden leg. The two black masks made of cloth. I asked myself what on earth Twain meant to suggest by all this, and in writing Finn I sought the answers."

"I put myself through college playing the guitar and singing, and later on I fronted a little band. I always figured that one day I'd be famous as one of those sensitive singer-songwriter types, but things didn't work out that way."

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    1. Hometown:
      Harleysville, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 12, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oneida, New York
    1. Education:
      A.B. in English, Syracuse University, 1976
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Under a low sun, pursued by fish and mounted by crows and veiled in a loud languid swarm of bluebottle flies, the body comes down the river like a deadfall stripped clean.
It proceeds as do all things moving down the Mississippi in the late summer of the year, at a stately pace, as if its blind eyes were busy taking in the blue sky piled dreamily deep with cloud. There will be thunder by suppertime and rain to last the whole night long but just now the early day is brilliant and entirely without flaw. How long the body has been floating would be a mystery if any individual had yet taken note of its passage and mused so upon it, but thus far, under that sky of blue and white and upon this gentle muddy bed aswarm with a school of sunfish and one or two smallmouth bass darting warily as thieves, it has passed only empty fields and stands of willow and thick brushy embankments uninhabited.
A crow screams and flaps off, bearing an eye as brown and deep as the Mississippi herself.
Sunday morning, early, and the river is without traffic.
An alligator gar, eight feet if it’s an inch, rises deathlike from the bottom and fastens its long jaw upon a hipbone, which snaps like rotten wood and comes away. The body entire goes under a time or two, bobbing and turning, the eggs of blowflies scattering into the water like thrown rice. The urgent sunfish eddy. The bluebottles hover, endlessly patient, and when the body has recovered its equilibrium and resumed its downward course they settle once more.
Boys note its passage first, boys from the village taking the long way to Sunday school, and their witness is as much nature’s way as is the slow dissolution of the floating body into the stratified media of air and water. The corpse is not too very far from shore and clearly neither dog nor deer nor anything but man.
“I’ll bet it’s old Finn,” says one of them, Joe or Tom or Bill or perhaps some other. On this Sunday morning down by the riverbank they are as alike as polished stones. “My pap says they’ll fish him from the river one day for sure.”
“Go on,” says another.
“Yes sir. A worthless old drunk like that.”
“Go on,” says the other again. He picks up a flat stone and tests it in his hand, eyeing the crow, which has returned and sunken its beak into a pocket of flesh. “Shows how much you know. That ain’t even a man.”
“I reckon you think it’s a mule.”
“It’s a woman, no question.”
The lot of them go jostling together and squinting into the sunrise and blinking against the glare on the water as if the only thing superior to the floating corpse of a man would be the floating corpse of a woman, as if seeking in unison for a lesson in anatomy and never mind the cost.
Finally, from one of them or another but in the end from the childish heart in each save the learned one, this confession: “How can you tell?”
“Men float facedown. Anybody knows that.” Skipping the stone across the water to flush the crow, ruining his good trousers with the offhand brush of muddy fingers.
They draw straws, and as the unlucky boy lights out toward the village to enlist an adult the rest of them locate a skiff and cast off and make for the body. They hook her with a willow switch, these boys inured to dead things, and they drag her like bait to shore. One of them has been keeping a dead cat on a string for a week now, a kitten really, just a poor stiff dried husk won exactly this way, string and all, in a game of mumblety-peg.
The corpse floats low in the water, bottoming out in the mud that sucks at heel and buttock and drooping wrist. During its journey down the river it has failed to swell in the common way of corpses left in the sun. It lacks for skin, all of it, from scalp to sole. Nothing remains but sinew and bone and scraps of succulent yellow fat that the crows have not yet torn free.
One boy panics and loses his balance and falls into the water, his clothes spoiled for Sunday.
The bootlegger stirs his fire, oblivious to the sparks that circle upward into the night sky. He hears everything, every whisper in the dry grass of the pathway that leads from behind his shack, every snapping twig in the surrounding woods, every wingbeat of sparrow or jay or owl. “You can’t steal whiskey from old Bliss,” he likes to say, as if anyone would stoop so low as to steal whiskey from a blind man.
He repeats this reassurance now to Finn, who has proven him wrong before. “That’s so,” says Finn.
Pleased with himself, Bliss cackles until he coughs. Then he spits between his crooked teeth into the fire, where the sputum lands with a satisfying sizzle. “You got a jug?”
“ ’Course I got a jug.” Finn is as regular around these premises as the weather, even more regular than Bliss knows. But tonight his first purpose is neither to buy whiskey nor to steal it but to dispose of something in Bliss’s perpetual fire. He has a tow sack between his feet, filthy even in the firelight and slowly leaking something into the dust. He bumps the blind man’s knee with his jug, a signal.
“Go on get it yourself,” says Bliss. “Can’t you see I’m occupied?”
“I’ll tend. You pour. Give me that stick.”
Bliss won’t let it go. “Leave an old man be. I reckon you know where I keep it.”
“I reckon I do, if I could find it in the dark.”
He has a point, so Bliss hands over the stick and limps off into the woods muttering to himself like an old priest.
Finn unties the tow sack and lays out its contents, long strips dark and dimly glistening, pieces of flayed flesh identically sliced save one. Their regularity in width and length and thickness speaks of a huntsman’s easy skill and a plotter’s furtive patience and something else too. He chooses one and throws it upon the fire, where it sizzles and smokes and curls in upon itself as sinuously as a lie.
“Hope you brought some for me,” says Bliss from the depths of the woods.
“There’s plenty.” Throwing another piece into the fire to blacken. “Bring a couple of them jars when you come back. We’ll have ourselves a time.”
Bliss, weighed down with Finn’s crockery jug of forty-rod, adjusts his course and shuffles down the path toward the cabin. Halfway along he uses his head at last, plants the jug midpath like a tombstone, and makes for home unencumbered, counting off the paces so as not to stub his unshod foot during the journey back.
By firelight Finn locates the piece he’s set aside for his host. He clears hot ash from a rock and places it there in the manner of an offering.
“I ain’t had nothing but beans all week,” says Bliss as he squats on his log. He swirls whiskey to cleanse a pair of canning jars. One of them is cracked about the rim and fit to tear someone’s lip, and this one Bliss chooses for himself as long as Finn is paying. He minds the crack with his thumb. Bliss is a poor drinker and he knows it. Not mean like Finn, but morose and persistent and beyond satisfying. “A little of your fatback would’ve gone good with them beans.”
“You’ll like it well enough plain,” says Finn.
Bliss sniffs the air with satisfaction and mutters something unintelligible, pours himself another whiskey.
“You be sparing with that.” But Finn doesn’t mean it and he knows that Bliss will pay him no mind anyhow. Once you get Bliss started there’s no slowing him down until the jug is empty. “Besides, I ain’t paid for it yet.”
“Don’t worry none. I’ll put it on your account.” Tapping the side of his head with a finger.
They sit in silence while the meat cooks.
“I’ve broken it off with that woman,” says Finn.
“You’ve made such a claim before.”
“This time I mean it.”
“We’ll see.”
“I reckon we will.”
Bliss points his nose toward the spot where the meat sizzles on the fire just as surely as if he had two good eyes to guide it. “When’ll that be ready, you suppose? I don’t want it burnt.”
“Soon.” Tossing in another strip or two.
“Ain’t no good to me burnt.”
“Hold your water.”
“I’m just saying. Yours must be about black by now. The one you put up while I was in them woods.”
“I ain’t having any. She’s all yours, on account of how good you’ve always been to me.”
“Aww. Tain’t nothing.”
“A token of my gratitude.”
Bliss smiles in the odd unself-conscious way of one who has never looked into a mirror and learned thus to confine his expressions to the social norm. “So how long was you with her, Finn?”
“Ten, twelve years maybe. Fifteen, off and on.”
“Offer and onner, like they say.” He puts down his empty jar and rubs his hands together in a fit of glee, his whole brain a lovely jumble of women and fatback bacon. “What’ll the Judge think?”
“Can’t say.” Stabbing the flesh with a sharp stick and flipping it over.
“You’ve steered him wrong before.”
“I know it.”
“Me, I don’t believe you’ll ever make a dent in that Judge. He knows what he knows.”
Finn grunts.
“Your daddy’s one judge that’s got his mind made up.”
“He’s been that way all my life.”
“He was that way before you was born, Finn. It ain’t none of your doing.” He hawks and spits into the fire, and Finn throws in some more pieces. “Sure it ain’t done yet?”
“Just about. Have some more whiskey.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
After a while Finn stabs the meat and places it upon a flat stone that he bumps against the bootlegger’s knee a time or two. “Can you set down that whiskey long enough to eat?”
“I’ll do my best,” says Bliss. Which he manages, just barely. And until half past midnight, while the silence in the woods deepens and the white moon looms and recedes and the owls grow weary at last of pursuing their prey through black air, the fire consumes Finn’s secret. Come noon Bliss will awaken on the hard ground, and in his mind Finn’s presence will have taken on the quality of a ghostly visitation.
He is between worlds, this boy. Between the river and the town, between the hogshead and the house, between the taint of his mother and the stain of his pap. He knows some things that he can never say, not even to himself.
He has trained his companions well—these boys forbidden to associate with him on account of his mother’s suspected stigma and his father’s famed trouble with whiskey, these boys who associate with him nonetheless and perhaps all the more intently for being forbidden his company although they do not generally encounter him at school or at church or at any of the other places ordinarily deemed suitable for boys of the village. They find his dark history as dizzying as a leap from some great bluff into a Mississippi pool and his scrapes with his violent pap as thrilling as a narrow escape from Injun Joe’s cave and his deep broad knowledge of woodsman’s lore and slave’s superstition as enchanting as a spell of protection against nightwalking spirits or werewolves, these boys forbidden to play with him yet drawn into his wake like needles to a lodestone, these boys whom he has trained well enough that at least one of them knows what he’ll say before he says it and indeed has said it already, that the body is not a man’s at all on account of it floats faceup.
When he can extricate himself from the widow’s he sleeps in a great barrel nearly as tall as a man and twice as big around, a sugar hogshead washed up among the rushes at the edge of the village. The barrel lies upon its side and he lies upon his side within it. Sometimes he locates a place between the staves where the rain and the riverwater and the barrel’s former purpose have conspired to leave behind a concealed crusty ridge of old sugar solidified, and with his clasp-knife he pries it loose for the pleasure of sucking upon it while he drifts off to sleep.
In the end it falls to the undertaker to load the corpse upon a wagon and remove it from the indignity of public display. Except perhaps for O’Toole, the giant who owns the slaughterhouse in the next county, there is none other who might possess the stomach for it. So here he is, rolling the sticky fly-blown thing into a square of old canvas and wrangling it up onto the bed of his wagon as if it were the featureless corpse of a slug and he an ant, strong beyond his size. His name is Swope, he is rail-thin and dressed in rusty black, and he has been a fixture in the village of St. Petersburg for longer than anyone can remember. From long association he has acquired both the air of death and some of its permanence, and his pale hair bursts from under the brim of his slouch hat like a pile of sunbleached straw.
The corpse for its part is well mannered, patient, and perfectly amenable. Leached clean of all fluids, it barely stains the canvas tarpaulin.
Swope mutters to himself as he works, complaining about the hour and the uncharacteristic heat and the unfairness of the world. He has long made a habit of talking to himself, since no one else will do it. The children believe that he speaks to Death, which hovers invisibly over one of his shoulders or the other, although their parents believe instead that he addresses his harmless old horse, Alma.
“As if I weren’t busy enough without goddamn half-pay charity cases come floating downstream. Won’t barely cover my expenses, may God damn the goodness of my goddamn bleeding heart, but who in hell else is going to do it? And at this time of the morning, as if the old gal couldn’t have kept till noon. A feller gets himself the idea to go skin somebody like a goddamn rabbit at least he ought to have the decency to set something by for the proper obsequies, mail it anonymous to the paper or the marshal or some such. A goddamn crime is what it is. The feller what done it deserves to be tried as much for one as for the other. Pitiful goddamn half-pay charity case.”
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Reading Group Guide

1. Finn (the character) is both sympathetic and unsympathetic. How do his various traits and actions make him that way? Did you find yourself rooting for him or against him? For what reasons? How did your reactions to him change as the book went on?

2. Finn is deeply conflicted on issues of race. Which of his impulses are good? Which are bad? What could he have done to change the outcome of his circumstances?

3. Finn is also fiercely conflicted in his relationship with his father, the Judge. He wants desperately to please him, but subverts his own intentions time and again. How does this make you feel about the two of them–and about their relationship?

4. The author chose to give Finn no first name and to give certain other characters either no names at all or names that identify them as archetypes (e.g., the Judge, the preacher, the laundress). Why do you suppose he made this decision? How did this unusual naming convention affect your understanding of and involvement with the story?

5. The events in Finn are told out of sequence. How would the novel have been different if it had been told chronologically?

6. Although the action in Finn is closely tied to the events of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the novel stands by itself and takes some very different directions from Twain’s work. Did that surprise you? If the author had chosen to stay closer to Twain, how would the book have been different?

7. If you have read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn recently, how did the world envisioned in Twain’s novel compare with the world in Clinch’s? Which seemed to you more realistic? Why?

8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a first-person narrator (Huck tells the story himself ), while Finn has an omniscient third-person narrator. Huck is told in the past tense, and Finn in the present. How do these differences affect your understanding of the novels and your connection to them?

9. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely regarded as a masterpiece of dialect writing. Did the author of Finn choose wisely in avoiding the use of dialect in his novel? What tricks did he use to give the impression of dialect speech without actually rendering it?

10. What images–either from memorable scenes or through vivid language–stand out to you? The author has said that much of the inspiration for the language of this book came from William Faulkner, the King James Bible, and old gospel hymns. Does that make sense to you?

11. Some minor characters from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reappear in Finn. Which of them did you recognize? How are they different, if at all?

12. One important theme of Finn is paternity: the things we take from our fathers and pass to our children. There are several father-and-child combinations in the book, both real and symbolic: Finn and the Judge, Finn and Huck, Judge Thatcher and Huck, Judge Thatcher and Becky, the Judge and Will, Judge Stone and his children, Mary’s father and Mary, the laundress’s husband and the murdered child. How do they compare to one another?

13. The last sentence of Finn–“He will take what he requires and light out”–echoes the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “...I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest. . . . ” Yet it also refers to the issues of paternity raised in Finn. Twain’s ending was hopeful. Is Clinch’s? How are the endings different?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(19)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

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1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Clinch manages to create a thoughtful, well-crafted tale that centers around Huck's drunken father, known simply as Finn. Artfully told, yet true to the beloved classic.

    About this time last year, I was looking for titles to pitch to my book club and came across Finn. I can't remember where I saw it, but it was a staff pick at one of the indie stores. The staffer had a lot of good things to say about it, but I was skeptical. I was intrigued by the premise, but doubtful. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a timeless classic so I wasn't interested in reading anything that would taint my memory of it. However, if the author chose to build upon it.well, that I could see. That's exactly what Jon Clinch does.

    Here's a passage from The Adventure's of Huckleberry Finn as said, by Jim:

    It's a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked too. He's ben shot in de back. I reck'n he's ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck but doan' look at his face-it's too gashly.

    The actual passage is quite a bit longer, but Clinch takes that passage and fills in the details to create Finn, which in and of itself, is its own story. Admittedly, the first half of the book is a bit monotonous. Finn is a simple man on the surface. He spends most of his day fishing, only to trade his catch for whiskey later. The daily routine of a drunkard can be a tad repetitive but in sharing this with us, Clinch gives us a feel for who Finn is. In between these drunken episodes, there are moments of clarity. Moments where Finn shows compassion, or pity.or even intelligence but there are also moments of pure hatred and viciousness. His behavior is almost animal-like in nature, and he is brutal at times.

    As for his relationship with son, Huck.there is love there, but there is also a "what can he do for me?" attitude which is brought to our attention early on. Finn's strength is the ability to immediately assess a situation, to determine what's in it for him. This rings true for his interactions with several of other characters as well, and there are many wonderful characters in this novel. Finn takes from each of them, what he needs at that exact moment.

    Although Clinch remains true to the classic, he does take some liberties with Huck as we know him. I wasn't sure how I felt about them, but by the end of the story, it all felt right to me.

    As far as the actual writing, the story is told out-of-order, and as the story progresses, the pace quickens and each chapter becomes shorter in length. This format was incredibly effective and had me eagerly turning each page to see how the story ended. As the days pass, I find myself thinking about the complexity of such a story and how Clinch managed to pull it off.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    Clinch is an English Teacher's dream student. I have not read a book this enjoyable in years. His descriptions of the Mississippi and its environs are so descriptive. You can smell the fish. The characters are so easy to imagine in the minds eye. The reader has no idea where the story is going. Great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I found this book at the Goodwill store and didn't start reading

    I found this book at the Goodwill store and didn't start reading it for awhile. Once I picked it up I totally enjoyed it and found it hard to put down.  

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  • Posted August 13, 2012

    I was pleased with the entire transaction and would recommend the book and seller to everyone

    John Clinch did a great job with this book.I found it written in the Mark Twain fashion I'm used to.It will compliment my Mark Twain collection very nicely

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    Finn

    So much has changed

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2010

    Finn

    Ever wonder what might have happened that cause Huck Finn's pap death, from the novel by Mark Twain? Now your wait is over. In this amazing tale by Jon Clinch named Finn. The main character being Huck's dad Finn. Throughout this novel Clinch is able to create Finn through his own point of view. Much like Huckleberry Finn Clinch writes about Finn's journey in life. Such as the struggle he went through, the adventures, problems with alcohol, and Finn's way of raising Huck. In Finn's adventures he faces much trouble with the law and much more. He also has many problems with his dad and "wife" with having disagreements. Finally, the death of Finn was very unexpected but expected at the same time. Who was his mystery murder? Reading Finn by Jon Clinch will astonish you, and will get very interesting. Clinch sets the novel in the 1800 when slaves and black were inferior to whites. A very interesting time period that Clinch's chooses, because it helps add more drama and suspense to the reading Clinch accomplishes all this by his descriptive words and images that make you feel like you were really there. Which increases theme of death and abusive relationship. In the end Jon Clinch wrote a great novel to bring Finn's character come out. I recommend this novel to all.

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  • Posted December 29, 2008

    This is an incredible book!

    I loved this book, though it is often disturbing. Mr. Clinch does Mr. Twain justice, in recomposing a wonderful, classic tale. The characters are gritty, the landscape so real and the dialogue (or lack there of) is brilliant. This book is not for everyone, but I think the ravenous reader will really appreciate this work of art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2007

    A reviewer

    Just the writing itself is delicious, refreshingly literary. On top of that, the layers Clinch has added to Huck Finn's story are amazing, and he keeps it plausible, albeit challenging perhaps because of what we have been conditioned to think. Huck remains himself and is explained-not directly, but through circumstances. Pap himself is very complex, I found myself rooting for him to keep it together at times. Excellent, believable characters, mood, description, reactions of characters to events, yet much of the power of this book lies it what is left unsaid. A book for real readers. Might have blown Mark Twain's socks off. Must, must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2007

    Masterfully written debut novel reaches lofty heights

    In a time when we are surrounded by shallow thinking and weak ideas from the leaders of our country to the people that control the entertainment industry, whose big ideas come from cartoons and comic books, this skillfully written debut novel from Jon Clinch seems to have slipped through the static and will surely rise to the top. FINN is a masterfully written, in-depth study of the complexity of the human condition. Clinch ingeniously uses the clues from TwainÕs masterpiece to flesh out the dark, brutal tale of Pap Finn. Clinch stands on the shoulders of Mark Twain and reaches lofty heights. Twain would have been proud.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2007

    A reviewer

    ...the author is implying that Huckleberry Finn was a mulatto. That may rattle some Twain purists, but it sure would explain Huck's tolerance that was unheard of in that era. I could understand the readers confusion because you have to be paying attention with this novel. The timelines jump around in a Tarantino- like manner and I'm still debating whether that enhances or detracts from the story. Also the dialogue could be vague as most characters conversed at length in muted one or two word phrases. This trend occured whether the speaker was an uneducated rube like the title character, or the local magistrate. Perhaps that was also part of the authors intent as I feel that one of the underlying themes of this book was that evil is not necessarily limited to Finn himself. All in all I'm glad I read this book. It's quite a page turner and I finished it quickly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2007

    Mark Twain Lives

    Mark Twain may be dead, but new author Jon Clinch brings him back to life in Finn. The main character is Pa Finn, Huck's father, and what a character he is. Clinch creates a dark,twisted and evil man who sheds light on the America of 1850. A great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2007

    The Mysteries of the Mississippi

    Clinch takes us back to the Mississippi and the days of Huck Finn - and before. I feel myself there - with the thick Mississippi mud hanging heavy at my feet - experincing it all. Of all things - we learn about his family. Dark - Original - I found myself wanting more. Let's hope Clinch doesn't stop here. Very well done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2007

    A great novel

    Jon Clinch's debut novel hits the mark. It is ambitious, enthralling, literate and exceptionally readable. I couldn't put it down. You don't need to have any knowledge of Twain's Huck Finn to enjoy this book. When I reread Huck Finn, however, what struck me was how much better Clinch's writing is than Twain's. This is a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Fabulous

    There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe Jon Clinch's FINN. The story is marvelous. The characters are wonderfully depicted, and the prose is an absolute delight. I LOVED this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Finn is FINNTASTIC

    This is a must read. As a debut novel - I am so excited to see what Jon Clinch writes in the years to come! I was pulled into this American story from page one. Well done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Magnificent

    Clinch's debut is not only beautifully written, it's mesmerizing, its concept as brilliant as the author's execution. A haunting masterpiece that will stay with you long after you've finished the last page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2007

    Masterful-- a 6 Star Book!

    An incredible must-read book that will sweep you up off your feet and straight down the Mississippi River. You don't need to have read Huckleberry Finn recently to enjoy this book because it stands on its own-- I couldn't remember the Twain classic very well, and I didn't feel that I missed it at all. But I did want to pick up the Twain and reread it when I got to the end of Finn, because I just didn't want the experience to end. I was mesmerized by this book and couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. The breadth of insight, compassion, and humanity that the author showed for his characters is rare indeed in contemporary fiction. An instant classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews

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