Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Finn (copy)

It has been said there are no true original stories. Each story is built on a previously written story. For example, a story we are all familiar with in Genesis, Noah’s Ark, is found in the Hebrew Torah, the Islamic Quran, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Various versions of the classic may be found in children’s picture books and in Sunday school lessons, too.

Other literature of late expands on classics with a variety of success. Two come to mind: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is based on the Biblical story of Dinah, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire is based on The Wizard of Oz.

New on library shelves and bookstore displays, Finn by Jon Clinch is based on Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Main character, known only as Finn throughout the book, isn’t Huck but rather his father. A mean, nasty bigot of a man who only cares for his son when money enters the picture, somehow makes for a sympathetic character.

Despicable characters tend to be plot drivers, but audience losers. An author takes a chance when he creates a main character so hateful. Why? Most readers want to empathize or step into the personality instead of wish them dead. Finn is lustful towards black woman, abusive to children, and slightly insane. Not really a person one would like to meet in the real world or read about.

Yet, author Clinch works in our sympathy for the alcoholic. In the first chapter, three young boys steal fish from Finn’s trout line. Finn, in search of drink, stumbles upon them mid-crime. Two of the boys bail, but one is left trying to remove a hook from his palm. The unfortunate takes a backhand from Finn, which knocks him out and the hook free. Then our antihero is seen tenderly removing the fish from the boat’s hull.

The book opens with an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn. Jim and Huck, while on the run, enter a cabin containing the body of a murdered man; who happens to be Huck’s father. The seedy room is strewn with “greasy cards,” “old whiskey bottles,” and “a couple of masks made out of black cloth.” The plaster walls shown “the ignorantest kind of words and pictures, made with charcoal.”

This scene sets the stage, from murderous start to vindicated end. Finn, although evolving from Huckleberry Finn, stands alone as an original.