Monday, March 19, 2007
Clinch, Jon. Finn. I don't think I was far off in the comments I made after reading only about 20 pages: "Clinch's writing is almost like reading a nightmare, beautiful and frightening. A study in wickedness. Evil under a microscope. Whitewashing. On page 11, Clinch introduces a morbid echo of the whitewashed fence in Tom Sawyer. The "whited sepulchre" -- a new approach to The Heart of Darkness."
Now that I've finished: Is this a novel about racism or about a psychopath? Both ideas are prominent. Huck's pap was a wicked fellow, and Clinch elaborates on the wickedness with great detail.
There are certainly hints about Finn's childhood, his cold parents whose cruelty followed different routes of emotional abuse. Finn's brother Will is also damaged, but relatively normal, yet Clinch doesn't adequately explain why Will manages to become a functioning human being, and Finn does not. Hints are provided, but not clearly delineated. Despite Clinch's eventual efforts to gain sympathy for Finn, his attempts to do so seem disjointed and don't appear to have his full attention.
The dialogue often repeats phrases that become echos or mantras. They are, perhaps, to illustrate the way uneducated and/or illiterate people are limited in their expressions of thought. It makes me wonder how it limits the thought itself, and not simply the expression.
The whitewashed room from the first few pages of the novel took on importance for me as I mentioned earlier. The covering up of corruption, physically and emotionally, is interesting. So, too, is the obsessive compulsion Finn has in marking over the newly cleaned space with new evidence of his crimes. The corruption seeps through the cover up, on the walls and in Finn's mind.
Apples appear in at least three scenes, almost like little vignettes, but the symbolism seem a bit more complicated. Did Clinch want them to be symbolic? Each episode seemed to stand out immediately and the repeated use of "apple" rather than another fruit would seem to indicate that Clinch used the apples deliberately, but that may not be the case. At any rate, apples have several symbolic meanings: temptation, health, harvest, fruitfulness, seduction, sexuality. Whatever their purpose, if Clinch intended one, the mixed message implied by the apples made me wonder about their purpose. The mixed symbolic message suits the novel.
Finn dominates. Huck, Mary, and the Widow Douglas are merely appendages to Finn's story, not even Mary seems to exist in her own right. The Judge, Finn's mother, and Will are also subjugated to Finn in the narrative, but influential in his thinking and behavior.
As repulsive as Finn is, both physically and spiritually, he seems to have a strange attraction for people. I had some difficulty believing this, but over and over-- in contrast to the fear he evoked-- he also evoked sympathy or pity from some of the least likely people.
Finn is doomed, but not even Twain would have imagined the sins that Clinch devises for Finn. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck rebels and escapes his father. Finn rebels, but never escapes.
After all of these wandering comments, what did I think of the book? I did not enjoy it. I will not soon forget it. The graphic images will remain with me, as will a kind of pondering similar to the worrying of a loose tooth. I've not covered half of the things that occurred to me as I read...
Fiction. 2007. 283 pages.