Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

Posted October 13, 2015 by Whitney in Review / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Twain’s End by Lynn CullenTwain's End
Author Lynn Cullen
Publisher Gallery
Publication Date October 13, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
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rom 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 reimagines 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.

First Impressions

I know Mark Twain for two things. He wrote Tom Sawyer and for wanted to dig Jane Austen up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.  I shamefully haven’t read his autobiography or any biography of Sam Clemens/Mark Twain. Although, I always love a good author scandal and enjoyed Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, decided Twain’s End was a “must read”.

Impressions While Reading

You could without question say the concept of employer/employee relationships has been done to death and I would have to agree.  Personally, this relationship annoyed me. I could not fathom why Isabel was so infatuated with Sam Clemens.  He was a pompous, narcissistic man.  I could only view Isabel as a star-struck fan and likened it to that of Steven Tyler and Bebe Buell.

I enjoyed the secondary character stories, particularly those of his daughters.  Clara, who while a bit unlikable, only wants to step outside of the shadow of her famous father.  Her fumblings were a bit hard to swallow. I felt sorry for her as the famous Mark Twain outshone Clara at her singing debut.

Jean was the sister I was most captivated with. This was mainly due to her epileptic disorder.  However, this was more on a personal level as I also have epilepsy and am therefore very invested in the topic.  It was a small nuance that added depth to Sam Clemen’s home life and was a prime example that not even Mark Twain’s life is a bed of roses.

On the last character story, I found the love triangle of Helen Keller, Anne Macy, and her husband John Macy to be very intriguing. I was even more pleased after reading the author’s note that it was not a fabrication.

The descriptions, particularly those of Italy, were extremely vivid. They added a great deal to the plot. Thus giving a grand picture of events as they played out before one’s eyes.  I’m a very visual person so always appreciate the little details such as the color of a theater curtain or the darkness of a room.

Final Impressions

One thing I have always enjoyed about a good historical fiction novel is if it moves me enough to learn more about that specific person or time period.  This was certainly true for Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen. Hence, inspiring me to read a biography/autobiography of the author.  I feel that is the marking of a captivating novel and, therefore, a thoroughly good read.

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