Monday, December 7, 2009

Huck Finn

I've restarted my subscription to the Library of America after about a 10-year lapse. I get a beautiful, hard-cover, slip-cased volume every six weeks, and only the ones I've checked that I want from their complete inventory. It's part of my dream that someday I'll have time to read all of American literature. Or at least much more than I have so far. I was also motivated by wanting a good edition of Main Street, which was the first volume I bought.

Maybe it was the Norman Rockwell, but I got a hankering to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I've never read, and which so many people I know enjoy teaching. For me, given my snobbish disposition, Mark Twain is a lot like Norman Rockwell. I know he's a master, but maybe a master stylist and a humorist. I admire him and love the quotes by him that are sprinkled everywhere in pop culture. But I associate Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with children's stories, not entirely serious, and have not been sure where he fits into "literature."

My reading this weekend was impaired by some kind of terrible bug I'd contracted. I didn't have a fever, but I had terrible body aches, sharp pains when I breathed, and a headache. I slept mostly, but between naps I read, and the book was good for this because the chapters are short and the book is episodic-- I could get through an adventure or two before putting it aside to sleep again. But it also suffered from this. The river is kind of delerium-making, despite Huck's detailed accounts of how orderly their lives were.

What I love so far the most, though, is that same river. It is very easy to imagine it, the broad river with banks on one side and forest on the other, the smell of it and the easy current. It is easy to imagine what it would be like to be on a raft at night, with myriads of stars overhead, drifting south.

Now that my head has cleared, I can appreciate more the beauty of it as literature. It's very much like an 18th century novel: picaresque, with satire (the duke and king are prime examples) and a bit of foiled allegory (the river journey is no Pilgrim's Progress, though we have Jim's freedom to worry about always, and in that way it is a journey-- though more literal than spiritual-- to redemption). And in its way, it is the best of what America has to offer: imaginative and rooted in the character(s) and landscape of this unique place.

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