Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

When I was a kid I consumed - there's no better word for it - the 'Illustrated Classics'  edition of every classic novel you can think of; ok, maybe not Tropic of Cancer. They weren't the hardcover version you see above, but stout little paperbacks that fit in your hand. On the left hand page, text; on the right side, a full page illustration.

They did a marvelous job of introducing me to literature and the construction of plot and character, but on the down side, given my published aversion to re-reading a book, I found it unnecessary to slog through 600 pages of the (actual)The Count of Monte Cristo to find out  - again - that he gets his revenge.

Cue 2012, when I sat down, NOOK in hand, to finally read the full version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The verdict? Eh.

Look, I hate writing this because who gets brownie points for saying they don't like a masterpiece? Might as well say the Sistene Chapel's a doodle of monkey dung, no?

But . . .

I thought there was no coherent plot, just a jumble of loosely tied events. The novel seemed more a collection of anecdotes and sketches than a 'book'.  I thought there were abrupt and jarring divides between material aimed at a young audience and that fit for adults. Worst of all, Twain (at that point in his career) seems to have no grasp on how to establish tension, or keep the reader at the edge of their seat. The characters emerge unscathed, then calmly sit down and tell you how they managed to get out of trouble. You never 'see' the action, and the reader is the worse for it. I mean, really now - the villain dies 'off camera'. Really???

After I worked out those points I poked around a little and discovered my complaints weren't unique. Certainly Twain improved over time (dramatically, I hope) but even if he didn't, the story itself and his talent for dissecting an event and coming to the heart of it were strong even at that point.

My honest grade, independent of its importance to literature: C+

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