What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

Field-Tested by Kevin Guilfoile

on I-79, I-77, and I-95 South

Every spring, my parents would drive my brothers, my sister, and I from Pittsburgh to Bradenton, Florida. It was probably 18 hours of driving time, divided over three days. The last time we did, it was in 1978, and instead of the massive canvas tote bag of books I usually brought — Hardy Boys and Three Investigators and so forth — I decided to take one novel for the whole duration, there and back.

I had already read Tom Sawyer and so was feeling pretty good about the decision. Huckleberry Finn seemed like Tom Sawyer, just longer. I already knew the characters. Huckleberry Finn wouldn’t be any more different from Tom Sawyer than the Mystery of the Screaming Clock would be from the Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot.

I was unprepared for an actual adult novel, with murders, con men, slavery, and vernacular speech. I was almost completely ignorant of the world Twain was satirizing and savaging in the novel. I remember being wedged into the vinyl back seat of our Oldsmobile Cutlass, struggling with the text, my discomfort growing inside and out.

Maybe because I hadn’t given myself any options, I stuck with it. But somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I began to figure it out. I was enjoying it. I was lost in it. I even remember the moment I put it together that we were on a journey south, same as Huck and Jim. I’m a little embarrassed to write that now; it’s so obvious and irrelevant and sentimental, but at the time, it was a revelation. As the southern landscape rolled past in my peripheral vision, I felt an immersive thrill I could never get from television or movies.

It took me weeks to finish. And when I was done, saddened to leave the world of that novel, I realized I was only about 20 miles, just across the Tampa Bay, from a completely different St. Petersburg than the one in the book.

I thought that was cool.

Kevin Guilfoile is the author of Cast of Shadows and co-author of My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook by George W. Bush. He can be found at his website.

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