2017-06-08 / Opinions

Book Review

Huck Out West
Reviewed by

Prepare for adventure. Although this reporter sometimes resents modern authors’ using characters from the classics to tell a new tale, Robert Coover has taken Huck Finn out to “the Territory” (as Mark Twain suggested before he left Tom Sawyer and Huck) in a rousing, rough tale such as Twain might have done.

Huck narrates his own account, and it’s in the dialect and dialogue that reflect our fond memories of the original books. Tom and Huck do head west and ride with the Pony Express until it is overtaken by the railroads. Huck becomes expert with horses and impresses not only General Custer (bad for Huck), but also the Indians who capture him (good for Huck). Horse lovers (or sentimental people like me) will enjoy the escapades of two of Huck’s remarkable horses.

Huck kept his affection and admiration for Tom through several betrayals. The reader is startled to learn that Tom sold Jim. Huck forgives that dastardly deed and promises himself to earn enough to buy Jim’s freedom, but of course he never earns much at all, though he does meet Jim again. Unlike Tom, Huck is scornful of money and says at one point that if he had known that gold was going to be discovered near where he is living, he would have moved on before all the chaos.

Robert Coover is an accomplished novelist and has Huck tell his story in all the twists and turns of that turbulent era in American history. Huck guides wagon trains, lives with Lakota Indians, tries to avoid the greedy gold seekers and stay out of the army’s way. He doesn’t succeed very often, though he makes a new best friend, Eeteh, a Lakota Indian. Eeteh is a teller of tall tales, much as Huck is, both getting themselves out of scrapes with ingenuity.Huck is often lonely and is thrilled when Tom appears again. Tom is still clever and skillful, but has his eye on the “main chance” and doesn’t care who gets hurt in his quest, including Becky Thatcher (whom he married and then abandoned) and Huck.

In one of the dramatic episodes (this will surely be a movie), Tom arrives in the nick of time to save Huck from the hangman’s noose. Huck is not happy with himself, referring often to his mistakes and “stupidity.” The reader is often anxious, trying to tell Huck not to have anything to do with that pretty girl or with Tom himself. We can always hope that he will ride off into the sunset with Eeteh, but we can’t count on it.

Huck Out West is available at the Mary Willis Library.

Return to top