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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.


  1. Does the title refer to Huck's Pap or to Huck himself? I'm curious.

  2. Jill, the title refers to Pap Finn.

    I'm only about 40 pages into the book, Jenclair, but I've already had some of the same reactions that you mention...and for the same reasons. This is definitely not an easy book to read but, in a way, I already find it to be fascinating.

  3. I am not sure this is one I will pick up, but it does sound interesting.

  4. jill - Sam already answered this one. :)

    Sam - Yes, I felt the same compulsion. Not pleasant, but compelling. As I said, this book will not be one I forget (and, frankly, there are so many that I do forget). I'm eager to read your review.

    feline - It is definitely not for everyone, but I don't regret it at all. I will be mulling it over for a long time.

  5. Finn definitely doesn't sound like my kind of book, but your review is excellent.

  6. Sometimes the "not pleasant, but compelling" ones stick with you the longest...thanks for the review!

  7. Bookfool - definitely not a pleasant undertaking, but I'm glad I read it.

    Gentle Reader - so many "pleasant" books slip right out of your mind when you shut them. Finn won't do that.