At the end of Huckleberry Finn, on the eve of the Civil War, Huck and his pal Tom Sawyer "light out for the Territory" to avoid "sivilization". In Robert Coover's vision of their Western adventures, Huck and Tom start by joining the famous but short-lived Pony Express. Tom becomes something of a hero and decides he'd rather own civilization than escape it, returning east to get a wife and a law degree. But Huck stays alone in the Territory; he guides wagon trains, scouts for both sides in the war, wrangles horses on a Chisholm Trail cattle drive, joins a bandit gang, finds an ill-fated pal in an army fort and another in a Lakota Sioux tribe, and eventually finds himself in the Black Hills just ahead of the 1876 Gold Rush. In the course of his adventures, Huck reunites with Tom, Jim, and Becky Thatcher and faces some hard truths and harder choices.
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I'm usually not a huge fan of reading literary fan fiction, but ye gads -- Robert Coover? So, I picked it up. It wasn't The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and it wasn't The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. or The Public Burning either, but it was still fantastic.
It felt like a western lit combination of Larry McMurtry and Charles Portis. In many ways Coover captures the baked-in contradictions and tensions of America captured by Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. "We ARE America, client the Bone! This is where the wonderfullest nation the world has ever seen is getting born I BELIEVE that! It'll be GREAT! A new land of freedom and progress and brotherhood!" Well, in this novel Huck is freedom and Tom is the progress and power.
The book reminds me constantly of the brilliance of stories in creating America, from the creation myths of its founding to the later stories told by those settling the West. We are a nation of storytellers and gold seekers. We are a nation of outlaw duos that like binary stars will forever orbit together in myth and legend: Tom & Huck, Kim and Kanye, Brangelina. That doesn't mean there isn't tension, but what is a good American story without a breakup. ________________________________
Some of my favorite lines from this book:
"A river don't make you feel less lonely but it makes you feel there ain't nothing wrong with being lonely."
"Maybe if I went on pretending, she'd go on pretending, and we could live a pretend life like that. Wasn't that how most lives was?"
"Laughing all we have, Hahza. No Great Spirits. Only laughing."
"But paying for sins is like getting the bad luck a body deserves for doing what he oughtn't done, like handling a snake-skin or stealing a dead man's boots."
"Dyin' improves EVERYBODY"
"Did you ever notice, Eeteh says to me one day, how making a world always begins with loneliness? The Great Spirits could invent all the suns and moons and rivers and forests they wanted, but it was never enough. They was still lonely."
"Stuff! I don't know what else humans is GOOD for, Huck"
"A hundred years from now, you and me'll both be dead and forgot and people'll still be killing each other. This is OUR killing time."
"I worked out a long time ago that, no matter what you do or think, you DIE and it's all wiped away. You brain rots and your thoughts, wants, loves, hates, simply aint no more. Others may borrow your thoughts, but you won't know that, you're gone like you never was. What we got is NOW, Huck, and now is forever. Until it ain't. So you can't worry over nothing excepting putting off the end a your story as long as you can, and finishing it with a bang."
"We got to still with our own tribe, even if they ARE all lunatics. If we don't, we'll end up crazier'n any of them."
Huck, EVERYTHING'S a hanging offense. Being ALIVE is. Only thing that matters is who's doing the hanging and who's being hung."
"I do believe it, but I'm prepared to change my mind if it ain't true, or if it's true, but inconvenient."