Saturday, October 10, 2015

An Intimate Picture of Mark Twain's Family in His Later Years

Twain's End is a novel, but based on extensive research done by Lynn Cullen. Mark Twain was an exceptionally talented writer, but his real life persona, Samuel Clemens, was far from the kindly old man telling marvelous stories. In fact, he was irritable, crotchety, and difficult. He was also a womanizer.

The story is told largely from the point of view of Isabel Lyon, his longtime secretary, whose extensive diaries gave Cullen the picture of the Twain household. Lyon came to work for Twain when his family was in tatters. His wife was fragile and ill, his daughters and his finances out of control. Isabel managed to turn things around and fell in love with Twain. When his wife died, she thought that marriage might be in the offing. Twain, however, had other ideas.

Twain was fond of young girls. One of his special favorites was Helen Keller. He supported her through a crisis in her writing career and enjoyed her company. I found the portrait of Keller and her relationship with the Macys one of the most interesting parts of the book. Her original teacher, Annie, Sullivan, was married to John Macy. Together the three of them formed a literary partnership.

If you enjoy well researched historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The characters from Twain to Helen Keller present an intimate portrait I would never have suspected. The character of Isabel Lyon is based on her diaries where she is clearly unhappy, hoping for more of a relationship with Twain than he offered. I found her thoughts circled constantly on the same topic and made it difficult to like her, although I felt sorry for her.

The settings from Twain's mansion to the streets of New York capture the flavor of the era and enhance the picture of the characters and their lifestyle.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.