‘Huck Out West’ by Robert Coover (2017) – 308 pages
Just as in Mark Twain’s original story, the Huckleberry Finn in ‘Huck Out West’ is a ‘Live and Let Live’ kind of guy. He has a generosity of spirit, an openness and basic kindness. He is older now, in his twenties, and has moved out west. Just as Huck befriends the black runaway slave Jim in the Mark Twain original, here he befriends a Lakota Indian named Eeteh. Huck has a mind of his own and is not unduly influenced by the general prejudices which pervade most of the people he meets. Whereas most of the white people he encounters have a rabid hatred of both Indians and black people, Huck sees the world from the underdog’s point of view.
He witnesses a mass hanging in Minnesota in 1862 of 38 Dakota Indians who had only resorted to violence after being systematically starved out by the white authorities. For a short time Huck travels with General Custer and his troops and witnesses the soldiers destroy an Indian village killing all the women and children since all the Indian men had already left. After that, Huck rides away from General Custer and his men, and subsequently Custer is always on the lookout for Huck and wants to hang Huck for desertion. Custer is Huckleberry Finn’s nemesis. Huck calls him General Hard Ass.
“All this killing, it’s too many for me,” Huck tells Tom.
Yes, Tom Sawyer is here too. However Tom Sawyer’s attitudes are a different story from Huck’s. Tom believes that the Indians are impeding the progress of the white man, and therefore all of the Indians must be killed. This is the typical position of the white settlers and one Huck can’t accept.
Despite the violence, there is also a lot of humor in ‘Huck Out West’ as all these white settlers arrive in the Black Hills hoping to find gold and passing their time getting drunk. A lot of funny stuff happens mixed in with the regular violent outbreaks. Huck is happy to share a drink with the settlers but is just as likely to share a drink with his Lakota friends.
The story gets a little shaggy. It could have been even better if it were about a hundred pages shorter as some of Huckleberry’s ordeals seemed a bit repetitive. Perhaps the appeal of a shaggy dog story is in the very fact that it is shaggy. However I would have preferred a little tighter sharper editing.
However Huckleberry Finn is one of the great characters in world literature, and I am happy to see his return. We need Huck’s good will and open spirit and kindliness more than ever.