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Huck Finn: What a Voice

One of the most interesting aspects of my Classic Reads so far is encountering first hand some elements -- plot, character, setting, tone, voice -- for which these famous books are known. The swooning passages in Jane Eyre, or the dry wit of Pride & Prejudice. Even though I know they're coming, they are often astonishing to read for the first time.

The captivating voice of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is no exception. Undereducated, but remarkably smart, the novel's hero, Huck, is at once naive (he is, after all, a child -- or tween, as we apparently say these days) and incredibly perceptive. He doesn't speak proper English and narrates from his youthful perspective, which gives a necessary distance from some of the darker events.  (More on that later.)

For those of you who haven't read it -- or haven't read it in a while -- here's the famous opening passage:

You don't know me, without ou ahve read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly--Tom's Aunt Polly, she is--and Mary, and the Widow Douglas, is all told about in that book-- which is mostly a true book; with some stretchers, as I said before.

There's something captivating about the way the narrative doubles back on itself. If it did this too much, it would probably annoy the crap out of me, as the story crumpled under the weight of the writing.

Most of the time, to my taste, Twain gets the balance just right, maintaining his youthful narrator's voice and manner of speech, while also keeping the narrative moving forward.

And what a narrative it is, as Huck outwits his drunken, abusive father -- along with everyone else -- and, faking his own death, runs away with Jim, the widow's runaway slave.

This -- his ingenious escape -- is the first of many moments in the book where Huck's breathtaking resourcefulness. More than any of his other qualities, his ability to think on his feet and adapt to a perilous situation is astounding.

My initial impression is that the story would be exciting however it was narrated, but putting us directly in Huck's confidence elevates the "adventures" to an almost meditative state.

Huck just does.

He simply is.

In the moment.

Considerably more zen than Jane Eyre.

And it's a joy (so far) to read.