Huck Out West

Written by Robert Coover
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Who hasn’t heard of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, those loveable scapegraces who pursued adventures in a Missouri cavern and along the Mississippi’s riverbanks in the 1840s? Mark Twain’s works were among my childhood favorites, and gave me a taste for droll irony. At the end of Huckleberry Finn, Huck decides to light out for the Territory to avoid becoming “sivilized,” but what happens next?

Robert Coover richly imagines just that in his far-ranging Huck Out West. Tom Sawyer, with his big plans and love of adventure, comes up with the perfect job for them both: Pony Express riders. However, the Express folds after only 19 months, and it’s not much longer before Tom goes back east to take civilization by the horns and make his fortune.

Huck says that he got used to the Territories and they got used to him, so he stays on. After all, there are plenty of ways to make a living, including scouting for General George A. Custer’s cavalry. He still feels guilty about he and Tom selling Jim, the runaway slave who came west with them, to a bunch of Cherokees, and sets about righting that wrong. When the Lakota finds Huck deathly ill from snakebite and cures the poisoned wound, he stays on with them.

I’m happy to say that Huck lives up to this Twainiac’s hopes. It’s not easy to write in vernacular without cloying or sounding forced, but Mr. Coover handles it deftly. He does equally well with portraying Twain’s beloved Huck, Tom, and even Becky Thatcher as believable adults. If you love Mark Twain or frontier tales, try a Western adventure with Huck.