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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Tue, 11 Apr 2000 12:07:56 -0400
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Kim Martin Long <[log in to unmask]>
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BOOK REVIEW

 _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_.  Auburn, CA: Audio Partners
Publishing Corp., 1999.  Read by Patrick Fraley.  Prod. by Ronald A.
Feinberg and Patrick Fraley.  Dir. by Ronald A. Feinberg.  Music by Ken
Deifik.  Time: 11 hrs., 20 mins.  Unabridged.  7 cassettes.  ISBN
1-57270-111-0. $29.95.

 Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices
from the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project.  Please visit
<http://www.yorku.ca/twainweb>.

  Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

  Kim Martin Long <[log in to unmask]>
  Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

 Copyright (c) 2000 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published
or redistributed in any medium without permission.

Although not technically a book review, this brief article reviews a
series of tapes produced by Audio Partners.  This audio version captures
the authorized text of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ (California),
totally unabridged, and it includes 7 cassettes, over 11 hours of audio
performance.  Narrated by experienced actor Patrick Fraley, this version
of Twain’s masterpiece comes alive with careful oral interpretation, a
rich tapestry of voices, and appropriate (but unobtrusive) musical
clips.

The first tape begins at the beginning, with Twain’s “Notice” and
“Explanatory,” then it launches without fanfare into Huck’s story.
Fraley’s Huck takes a few minutes to grow on you; the voice is at first
a little grating on the ears.  He sounds a little like a cross between
the humorous writer David Sederis, who has read much of his work on
National Public Radio, and young Ron Howard as Opie on _The Andy
Griffith Show_.  I don’t mean to be critical of Fraley’s work as Huck;
he captures many of Huck’s changes in tone, such as when he talks about
the Widow’s hypocrisy, his and Jim’s idyllic life on the raft, or his
escapades with Tom at the beginning and at the end of the novel. I am
willing to forgive some very minor inconsistencies in the dialect
(sometimes -ing, sometimes -in’; or sometimes long “i,” sometimes “ah”)
because of Fraley’s overall believability with the voice.

Huck’s voice, in fact, seems to settle in as the tapes continue.  He
sounds more comfortable, less forcedly “hick” as the story progresses.
(To make sure that it wasn’t just my ears, I tried listening to later
and earlier tapes one after the other to compare.)  It’s the other
voices, however, in the novel that make this tape series worth the
investment.  Jim is believable without being overly dialect-laden; Pap
is perfect as the excitable bigot; Miss Judith Loftis sounds as she
should, as an observant woman who might live on the Mississippi’s banks;
the raftsmen, “Child of Calamity” and company, are a real treat; and the
Duke and the King’s voices communicate the confidence men’s characters,
even in their own abilities to “do” different voices.  Fraley’s facility
with changing back and forth between voices in conversation brings the
dialogue in the novel to life.

Between chapters Ken Deifik’s short musical licks create transition and
texture to the narration.  Mostly harmonica, but sometimes piano, the
selections are brief so as not to interrupt the motion of the story.  I
appreciate that the producers, Ronald Feinberg and Fraley, resisted the
temptation to include sound effects or other audio intrusions.  The
result is a clean but auditorily rich recording of the novel.

I imagine that some people might buy this tape series as they would any
“book on tape,” people who have not read Twain’s tale.  Others might get
it to use in teaching, either in high school or in college classrooms.
In that case, however, it would have been extremely helpful for the
publishers to have included a guide in the tapes that indicates where
each tape begins and ends. It is unlikely that a teacher would play all
eleven hours of tape.  It would have been a major advantage to have a
way to focus in on a specific passage (Huck and Jim’s conversation about
Solomon and speaking French, or the Duke and the King’s renditions of
Shakespeare).

The tape series would make an important contribution to a high school
library’s collection of media.  Many students in schools today with
learning disabilities would certainly benefit from listening to this
taped version of Twain’s book, either as a substitute or as a
supplementary aid.

The cost of the tapes is really very reasonable at $29.95 although one
can acquire cheaper versions with fewer cassettes.  Other readings are
certainly available (by Ed Begley, Jr. [Harper Audio, 1998], Dick Hill
[Brilliance, 1992], and an abridged version by Garrison Keillor
[HighBridge, 1996], to name a few), but this affordable, well-done
rendition may become the definitive oral version of the day. I’m not
sure if Clemens himself could have read all his characters’ “shadings”
with as much color and credibility.

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