Best Huck Finn sentence so far—inspiration for gay soldiers

December 9, 2017

I like to start my day with a dose of brilliant prose to inspire me writing my gay soldiers book. (Worked well for Columbine.)

 

Today I decided to do what my mentor Lucia Berlin always told me: Don't just underline passages you love: you have to write them out, then you'll get the rhythm inside you. I hardly ever do. Whoops.

 

So . . . Last night, I read the most glorious passage from Huck Finn so far, p. 108, here's a bit:

 

". . . and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres—perfectly still—just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe. The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line—that was the woods on t'other side—you couldn't make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and warn't black any more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along, ever so far away—trading scows, and such things; and log black streaks—rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumble up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by-and-by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there's a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes that streak look that way; and you see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river, and you make out a log cabin in the edge of the woods, away on the bank on t'other side of the river, being a wood-yard, likely and piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres; then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from over there, so cool and fresh, and sweet to smell, on account of the woods and the flowers; but sometimes not that way, because they've left dead fish laying around, gars, and such, and they do get pretty rank; and next you've got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!"

 

And he waits a whole nother* page to say, "It's lovely to live on a raft."

 

This may sound goofy, but I had no idea that was all one sentence! (After the opening bit.) It took me typing it in to even notice. And man, did I notice more on that read, even though I'd read it half a dozen times already. (I went back and edited the title of the post to "sentence" in place of "passage.")

 

My new favorite moment is, "you see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river . . ." The mist is a gorgeous set-up, but then the rest of it, the economy of it! And the way the image unfurls so effortlessly, of the mist curling up, then the sky redding first and then casting the same glow onto the water. Amazing.

 

He must have watched it many times, so see exactly how it was happening, and which tiny fragments he should drop in to most concisely capture the magic of it.

 

(And I'm still impressed that he got both sky and river that color with only using the red word once! Do you know how hard it can be to write so many descriptions without repeating a word?)

 

You can see some of my favorite moments in the pic below: what I underlined as I read. That dog-tossing was such a surprising moment and great contrast and leveller. (So was the rank smell, so it wasn't all butterflies and rainbows. Keeping it real. That a deft turn, but the surprise of the dog toss.)

 

And what a delirious way to (nearly) end it, with "everything smiling in the sun"—which was totally earned by that point, or you're made of wood—and then one last detail of the songbirds going at it, made all the better because he leaves at the "at." That totally caught my ear—I can hear Huck saying it that way, so it works, but just that tiny touch of difference, never quite the way I've heard it before.

 

———

 

This whole glorious passage also comes at just the right moment, the start of Chapter 19, immediately after they get back on the river, following the first significant spell off it, with the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons.

 

* Yes, it's a word. Bet I've heard you say it.

 

 

 

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