Is this resurrection something to celebrate, like the boys showing up at their own funeral? You may be tempted to sigh, 'I been there before,' but you ain’t been here before, not like this anyways ... Coover sustains that magical act of literary ventriloquism for 300 pages, preserving Twain’s raggedly, tall-tale patter spiced with the same accidental aphorisms. But Coover’s feat of transformation is ultimately more interesting than his imitation ... despite a rich vein of slapstick humor, Huck Out West is a more melancholy novel than Twain’s original. 'All stories is sad stories,' Huck says, and we come to see that his “desperate low-spiritedness” stems from the trauma of witnessing so much of the human slaughter that federal expansion demanded ... f the story meanders as much as the Mississippi River, it also gathers considerable force as Huck struggles to stay out of trouble, avoid Gen. Hard Ass and resist Tom’s increasingly malevolent friendship.
...a West well beyond the dark original author’s darkest imaginings, a West that Hieronymus Bosch might have painted: an Eden falling fast to onrushing gold-maddened men who are glutting it with spilled whiskey and the blood of hideously murdered fellow men, and covered with the alkaline of treachery and moral anarchy ... [a] pulsating anti-epic ... Under Coover’s hell-hot pen, then, Tom Sawyer consummates the impish boyhood that Twain gave him; he has grown up to be, God help us, the nihilistic Sivilizer, the America-in-chrysalis. Yet Coover’s sardonic revulsion toward the often profligate, prodigal nation his literature has lampooned for 50 years has not yet grown absolute. Amid the chaos and savagery, his Huckleberry Finn still stands as Twain created him: an innocent, abroad in the new world, uncorrupted, truth-telling, the last angel of our better nature.
The likely reason for such minimal treatments of Becky, Jim, and others would be that Coover’s story is mostly interested in Tom, whose early actions suggest little maturation from the conniving prankster that Twain could never seem to shake ... The novel certainly risks the perpetuation of racism and misogyny and other regressive frustrations in the contemporary United States, as does any novel that delves into the seedier sides of everyday life. More valuably, it makes a powerful case for storytelling — with all the attendant pleasures and possibilities, stretcher-filled or not — as a crucial tool in a progressive agenda. Not just any type of storytelling, though. Huck Out West memorably demonstrates the recklessness of starting stories without imagining endings and consequences ... In Coover’s contribution to this long-running tradition, we get a call to engage. Stories are what we have.