Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Buy the Book, Kid: Finn

The deluge from CapeTown is beginning to make us all look bad, so I figured I’d comment on a book I just read. Of course, the most recent book posts have been charmingly introduced with a Henny Youngman story that introduces a catchphrase for writing about literature. Now I’m left choosing to ride the coattails of the aforementioned story or to try and compete with Henny Youngman. My only brush with comedic fame involves Captain Morgan and Andy Dick, and ends not with an autograph but with a harrowing tale of attempted molestation.

I think I’ll go with “Buy the book, kid.”

I just finished the book Finn, by John Clinch. This is one of those rare occasions where an online review is far better than one in the paper, by the way, because Clinch has done what he can to provide online resources for his fans. These resources include an Amazon blog and a website full of related information.

I started and finished Finn on the 16th. The release date wasn’t until the 20th, but I knew someone at Barnes and Noble would screw it up. I preordered, and got a call on the 16th that it was in. The clerk took it off of a pile of other books, near an email taped to the desk describing just how important it was to not sell Harry Potter early. It’s nice to know that under no circumstances can a tale of wizardry escape a minute early, (it literally spelled out the minute) but a significant step forward with some of American literature’s most enduring characters drops four days ahead of schedule.

Pap Finn’s death (unbeknownst to Huck, he was the dead man in the floating house) in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a striking scene. Clinch has decided that the circumstances surrounding his death are deserving of their own story. In a way, Finn gives more of a look into Pap’s head than Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer does to their protagonists.

The story does not spare any details in its description of one of the most pitiless characters ever created. Murder, battery, accessory to cannibalism, etc. It also covers Pap's childhood. One of the risks of providing a backstory to such an unlikable person is the temptation of providing a childhood that absolves the sins of adulthood. While the semi-shadowy figure of Huck’s grandfather provides little in the way of nurturing, though, Clinch avoids granting remission.

The most interesting part of Pap Finn is the way in which he professes racism while finding black women irresistible. In fact, Clinch follows the school of thought that claims Huck is light skinned, but part black. Racism of this type has always been fascinating to me. I grew up in a place where plenty of my white friends would not hesitate to tell a few racist jokes (when in all white company)on the same night that they would have a black student crash at their house.

I’ve always been shocked by people who claim that they don't like blacks, but that their black friend is "one of the good ones.”

Can someone have a black friend / partner and still hate blacks?

No comments: