Book Review: 'Twain's End'

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lynn Cullen. Gallery, 342 pp. $26.

There certainly seem to be a lot of historical-fiction-based-on-real-events releases over the last few years. I think, to some extent, Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife" -- a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's relationship with his wife, Hadley Richardson -- is to credit (or blame) for this trend.

In one of the latest novels along this thread, "Twain's End," by Lynn Cullen, investigates a topic and character rarely touched in fiction, the personal life of Mark Twain.

Two of Twain's colleagues, his private secretary, Isabel Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Asheroft, fall in love and get married. Twain seems to bless the marriage, but shortly after he fires them both and rants over the course of 429 pages.

If you've got a picture in your mind of Mark Twain as an understated writer, rough around the edges but overall witty and charming, you may not want to read this book. He is not the "good guy" here, he's not very sympathetic.

I like books that don't glamorize their main characters. Not every protagonist is the hero, and not every antagonist is the villain, especially not in literature. The characters that have flaws are the most interesting, and in "Twain's End," Mark Twain unequivocally has flaws.

Don't go into this one expecting a heartwarming tale of love and loyalty -- you won't find it here. But, from what I've read and heard of the actual, real-life Mark Twain, this isn't the person he was, no wasn't it the way he'd want himself portrayed.

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