Huckleberry Finn’s drunken father is the inspiration for this novel, which owes more to William Faulkner in style than the easy, conversational storytelling of Twain’s famous boyhood narrator. Clinch employs an omniscient narrative voice in the present tense, allowing a host of familiar and unfamiliar characters new light in his imagination.
Finn is a murderous river dweller who lives in the shadow of his father, the Judge, and his lawyer brother. Where Twain chose to leave the dark side of the Mississippi river culture largely off-stage and allow only selected parts of it into Huck’s life, Finn dwells foursquare in this world of alcohol, slavery, and death. Finn’s relationship with the woman who gives birth to his son explores not only his complicated nature but also the uneasy relationships born of slavery in 19th century America. The money that Huck finds with Tom Sawyer only serves to remind Finn of his own poverty and lack of respectability.
As the novel unfolds, we understand why Twain’s eternal boy felt compelled to run away. Finn eventually gives his son an invented past, that most American of narrative solutions. Clinch’s tale eventually takes Finn to his familiar ignominious end in a cabin, later to be found amongst a pile of castoff clothes and odd furnishings by Jim in the backwash of the Mississippi.
It’s obvious that Clinch knows his Twain, as well as his narrative style. Almost any work ambitious enough to insert itself into the mythos surrounding the signature American novel would suffer from comparison. But Finn rises above this in shedding a little more light into a very dark corner of our collective imagination.