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Here’s another example: “Down the frozen center of the street he marches like some mud-formed golem drawn by revenge or moonlight until the lamps of a tavern catch his fierce eye and he turns at once, lighter than any observer might guess, and mounts the steps to the door and enters into the place accompanied by snow and black wind.” I don’t know what black wind is, but when I read that I felt it. The novel abounds, no, it overflows, with such writing.

For all the fine prose, the author does not forget to move his story forward. Finn is obsessed with the idea of getting his hands on his son’s $6,000, Huck’s share of the gold he and Tom Sawyer found in a cave, and most of his movement is toward that end. When he learns of the money, Finn says, “Looks like I’ll be getting my inheritance after all, don’t it? Only it come upstream instead of down.”

But his journey covers so much more ground, from the virulent racism of the day, which Finn embodies, to the agony of father-son relationships gone bad, and especially to man’s ability to make a mess of things, things like life. And, as in the novel it emulates, almost all the action takes place on or near the Mississippi River, that grand and terrible symbol of America, then and now.

Jon Clinch owes the idea of his central character to the book by Mark Twain, but what he has made of that character is entirely original, very powerful and simply wonderful. I can’t wait to see what this writer does next.

John Greenya is a writer living in Washington, D.C.