Finn, by Jon Clinch
(New York: Random House, 2007 )
Jon Clinch's novel Finn takes its readers into the life of the marginalized character Pap Finn, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In Mark Twains novel, Pap get little recognition, save a few chapters in which he tries to regain his custody over Huck in order to get his hand into Huck's treasure. Perhaps the most striking appearance of Pap in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is when Huck and Jim find him dead in a house on the river. Though Jim initially hides the identity of the dead man from Huck because he feels it is too gruesome and damaging for the boy, he later reveals to him that it was Pap. All Twain offers us of Pap is a one-dimensional villain who represents the low-class, racist, white society of the period. Clinch takes this character, and without departing from Twain's representation, expands, complicates and deepens him. Clinch takes the same villainous, violent, racist who Twain has created, christens him "Finn", and gives him a story of his own.
Though the action of the story is temporally consistent with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , it also flashes back to Finn's childhood and early adulthood. Its lets the readers compare Finn's parental role toward Huck to that of his own father, who we are only introduced to as "the Judge". Though Clinch is far from apologizing for Finn's character, as he constantly bombards the readers with violent scenes of abuse, murder and rape, he offers a grey area in which to see him. When the novel concludes at the point when Jim and Huck find Finn dead in the house on the river, Clinch refuses to let his readers sleep soundly believing that the villain has received justice.
The events leading up to Finn's death are perhaps the most liberty that Clinch takes in the novel in departing from Twain's novel. He brings into the scene the character of Huck's mother who Finn had told Huck was dead. This woman, Mary, in Clinch's novel, is black. Mary is, in fact, alive and had given up her motherhood over him in order that he would not have to grow up as a mulatto. At the end of the novel she is reunited romantically with Finn, but ultimately kills him in his sleep out of love for her son, when she sees Huck's hat in the house and discovers that Finn has been abusing him. This is a huge leap for Clinch to take, but not what that was previously unconsidered. It offers a new layer of complexity to the story.
The final twist to the story however, comes in the character of Finn's father "the Judge", who shows up just after Mary has killed Finn with plans to do the job himself. He knows that his grandson Huck is a mulatto and after commanding Finn to kill him and Finn refusing, he decides to pull up the weed by the roots by getting rid of his wayward son before he fathers anymore mulatto children. Here readers are forced to reckon with Finn's possible compassion and even love for both Huck and Mary. Though he is evil and debased, the novel leads up to the point when the reader can finally see him as a human and not a monster.
This novel certainly offers a unique insight into the world of possibility that surrounds the character of Pap Finn in Mark Twain's novel, however it is questionable whether it adds anything to the focus of our course. This is a course in Mark Twain: the man, the author, the creation. Our main focus thus far has been on who Mark Twain was for Sam Clemens and what his agenda was in his writings. This novel however, is Jon Clinch filling in the blank spaces in Mark Twain's writings with entirely his own views. Though these views are interesting, gripping and novel, they do not particularly serve our purposes because they do not come from the hand of Sam Clemens. In the way that we link Mark Twain's Autobiography to his other writings, we cannot do with this novel. It cannot give us further insight into who Mark Twain or Sam Clemens were and what they were trying to accomplish.
All of this aside, this novel it able to stand alone as a great work of literature. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is merely the backdrop of Finn. It takes readers deeper into gothic land south of the Mason-Dixon Line than they ever wanted to go. The gentle reader is not led by the hand, but rather gripped at the throat and dragged into the dark clutches of the muddy Mississippi. It is a phenomenal, though disturbing novel, which I would wholeheartedly recommend to those not faint of heart.