IT WAS AN invitation no book reviewer could refuse. Several weeks ago, well in advance of the pre-Christmas turmoil, I and a dozen other regular reviewers of fiction for Book World received an invitation to participate in a holiday symposium on this tantalizing question: "Which character in fiction would you most like to be, and why?"
Not in the least surprisingly, none of those offered the chance to participate in this novel seminar declined to do so. For some, as you can see from the pieces below, the choice was easy; for others it was difficult, torn as they were among a number of characters who had managed to work their way into their hearts.
AFTER A heated contest between Pip in Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn, I've decided to buy American. Aside from adventure-crammed adolescences, what do these two have in common? They are protagonists of great novels that fall apart at the end. Pip wins the frost-hearted Estella. Huck teams up with Tom Sawyer in a farrago of trumped-up shenanigans. In each case a fine book ends unworthily.
Dickens knew better. His plan was for Pip and Estella to go their separate ways, but he let a hack, Lord Bulwer-Lytton, talk him out of it. His notes survived, though, and an approximation of the rightful ending can be found in the Penguin edition of Great Expectations.
Mark Twain was not so lucky. There is no discarded material to restore, and the best attempt at supplying an alternative ending, in John Seelye's The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, simply truncates the action. As Huck Finn, my metaliterary mission would be to feel my way instinctively toward the climax the book deserves. Then I'd have nothing left but to grab the bulliest opportunity ever offered an American creation: "to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest."