FIERCE PEOPLE by Dirk Wittenborn


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Wittenborn (Zoe, 1983, not reviewed) attempts a comeback with a stab at an updated Huck Finn.

Young Finn Earl isn’t the type to run off with slaves; rather, he’s the type who gets arrested for trying to buy cocaine in New York for his mother, a masseuse/addict only a few emotional years ahead of our precocious 15-year-old narrator. As luck has it, Finn’s arrest can be remedied if mom agrees to take what looks like a shady job as a private masseuse for Osborne, an aging mogul in New Jersey. This is north Jersey, so Finn is suddenly privy to the ways of many a rich brat. From there, it’s the usual parade of adolescent pimples, premature ejaculations, and primal scenes. Soon, Finn is teamed up not with Jilly, the titillating exhibitionist daughter of the maid, but with Maya, the titillating exhibitionist granddaughter of Osborne. But hold on. Turns out Osborne’s a eunuch and he’s not sleeping with mom after all. Instead, mom’s exploring romantic possibilities with a local doctor, and, stop the presses!, it’s Jilly who gets pregnant instead of Maya. And what’s to become of Finn’s missing anthropologist father, whose study of the Yanomamo people of South America has been a refrain of Finn’s all along? The narrative threatens to take an interesting turn when, on his way, finally, to do it with Maya, Finn is attacked and raped, but unfortunately he just takes it in smarmy stride: “I had been trying to lose my virginity, but not like this.” Wittenborn wants to be compared to Twain and Fitzgerald, but his character is just talky where Huck is a storyteller, Finn’s neither as wise nor as naive as his namesake, and the tale is wannabe soap opera (Will Jilly get that abortion? Might Osborne be Finn’s real father?).

Not nearly as ambitious as its marketing suggests.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-58234-242-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2002