a review by

JR Foley

     Huck Out West (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 2017, 320 pages) is such a treat, I won't say more about what happens than that most of it takes place at Deadwood Gulch just before and during the start of the Black Hills Gold Rush of the 1870's. And to say it's every bit as good as Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would only provoke scoffing, so I won't say it. But if you enjoyed the prequel, you should find the sequel a lot of fun.

     Although I won't say as much about the story as the dust jacket, I invite you to compare the following passages from each book selected more or less at random.

     A little smoke couldn't be noticed, now, so we would take some fish off of the lines, and cook up a hot breakfast. And afterwards we would watch the lonesomeness of the river, and kind of lazy along, and by-and-by lazy off to sleep. Wake up, by-and-by, and look to see what done it, and maybe see a steamboat, coughing along up stream, so far off towards the other side you couldn't tell nothing about her only whether she was stern-wheel or side-wheel; then for about an hour there wouldn't be nothing to hear nor nothing to see – just solid lonesomeness. Next you'd see a raft sliding by, away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping, because they're most always doing it on a raft; you'd see the ax flash, and come down – you don't hear nothing; you see that ax go up again, and by the time it's above the man's head, then you hear the k'chunk! – it had took all that time to come over the water. So we would put in the day, lazying around, listening to the stillness. Once there was a thick fog, and the rafts and things that went by was beating tin pans so the steamboats wouldn't run over them. A scow or a raft went by so close we could hear them talking and cussing and laughing – heard them plain; but we couldn't see no sign of them; it made you feel crawly, it was like spirits carrying on that way in the air. Jim said he believed it was spirits; but I says:
     "No, spirits wouldn't say, 'dern the dern fog.'

     Here's the second passage:

     I'd waked before sun-up that morning and had set out my trotlines and clumb up on Ne Tongo with a couple of whisky-jugs and rode out through the hills to the tribe's lodges to do some trading for Zeb and have a smoke with Eeteh and maybe some a them fried turnips they're so proud of. But the lodges warn't there. Only ashes from small cooking fires spotted about, a few still smoldering like the tribe had packed up and left in a hurry.
     I warn't certain what made them decamp like that, though I could guess, and when I rode back to the Gulch I seen I guessed right. There was tents and lean-tos and wagons and mules and people swarmed up everywhere, with more rolling in every minute. And noise. The Gulch was the silentest place I'd knowed since back on the Big River deep in the night, and now there was hammering and clanging and sawing and horses whinnying and donkeys hee-hawing and all manner of shouting and cussing and arguing, a general lunatic hubbub. Everybody wanted to get rich but only a few would, if any, so they warn't polite. I heard the crackle of gunfire going off somewhere, sounding like a prairie brush fire, and I knowed it warn't the last I'd hear.

     I conclude this booknote with one question: how does Coover do it??? He's in his 80's now, and still doing work like this! Of course, in his 60's and 70's he wrote, among other things, the giant Brunist Day of Wrath. At mid-20th century the general lament of critics was that, in their advanced ages (i.e., their 50's), the great American writers of the first half of the 20th Century (Hemingway, Faulkner, et al.) were "losing their powers." Coover has been publishing since that same time and every decade his work gets deeper, funnier, more imaginative, and in language both more inventive and definitive. Well. Lest gush diminish the credibility of this review, I quit now with the simple, restrained judgment that: on the evidence, Robert Coover's — I don't say genius but its Greek equivalent — Robert Coover's daimon never quits.



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In addition to Huck Out West Robert Coover's novels and stories include The Brunist Day of Wrath, The Origin of the Brunists, The Public Burning, John's Wife, Pinocchio in Venice, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors' Cut, and Pricksongs & Descants. The Brunist Day of Wrath is reviewed in FlashPøint #17, FlashPøint #15 focuses on his entire work.