"Isabel's mother watched her tie on her hat with the look of intense pride and suppressed doubt that is particular to the mothers of grown daughters."
From the bestselling and highly acclaimed author of Mrs. Poe comes a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of America’s most iconic writer: Mark Twain.
In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both. He proceeded to write a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, calling Isabel “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” Twain and his daughter, Clara Clemens, then slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly seven years of devoted service to their family. How did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy?
In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen re-imagines the tangled relationships between Twain, Lyon, and Ashcroft, as well as the little-known love triangle between Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy, and Anne’s husband, John Macy, which comes to light during their visit to Twain’s Connecticut home in 1909. Add to the party a furious Clara Clemens, smarting from her own failed love affair, and carefully kept veneers shatter.
Based on Isabel Lyon’s extant diary, Twain’s writings and letters, and events in Twain’s boyhood that may have altered his ability to love, Twain’s End explores this real-life tale of doomed love.
Lucky me! I got to read an advanced copy of this (via netgalley & BEA) from a well liked Author (Hi Lynn!) and a topic close to home. Samuel Clemens has so much history in Connecticut and anyone who lives here has been subjected to many Mark Twain themed educational romps. You can't grow up in Connecticut without some knowledge of who he was and what he wrote. I'm curious if people who haven't grown up around here have the same basic knowledge of him... it would be interesting to find out. My guess would be, other towns/states would have their own historical figure to learn about in detail, ours was just Sam Clemens (Mark Twain). For whatever reason, I had a feeling that I'd enjoy this book more than Mrs. Poe, but that wasn't the case. Although I really, really enjoyed "Twain's End", the subject, setting and characters had me more enchanted in Mrs. Poe.
Even though I had extensive knowledge surrounding SC/MT (my new nickname for him), I learned soooo much more from Lynn Cullen. She really dug in deep (just like she did with Mrs. Poe. Something I did know but maybe I should clarify for those of you reading this... Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens and vice versa (almost like an altar ego). Twain was the beloved (his pen name) and Sam was the grouchy/greedy jerk (the majority of the public only saw him as Mark Twain and didn't know he had this other side). Another tidbit I was aware of was the connection he had with a comet, how he felt it would be with the comet he would meet his death. But it wasn't just the background details that I loved so much, Cullen even added wonderful little references to the times (again, reflecting something I loved about Mrs. Poe):
"Now I know why he called his stories 'Just So'. But I think he forgot the second 'so'."
I know, I know... I'm not supposed to quote until the finished product but that was too good not to share! If it didn't make you giggle a little, you have a questionable sense of humor.
There was so much the book had me questioning, "Is it true?", well rest assured that Lynn divulges all at the end, which makes the story even more enriching. For example, I had no idea Mark Twain was close friends with Helen Keller! Check it out:
That's right, Lynn based a huge chunk of the story on an actual meeting that happened. I never knew! Shame on me. Thankfully, Lynn Cullen is giving me the history lesson everyone wants (the gossipy one). Her books should have a tag line of, "These are the things you don't learn in school". Let's just say this woman opened up my repertoire of fun facts to use while chatting it up with others - especially in Connecticut. I should also mention that the title of this book is very aptly named and will be something you'll discover once you read it... ahem... wink, wink... shove - go read it already!
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