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Twain's End by Lynn Cullen

Twain's End

by Lynn Cullen

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12017100,400 (3.29)12
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    The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both novels depict the less flattering aspects famous American authors' private lives.
  2. 00
    Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Fictionalized stories of the women behind famous men.

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My review of Twain's End is now up on Fresh Fiction!

"Reading this book opened my eyes to the man behind the pseudonym Mark Twain"

Read the whole review here! ( )
  MaraBlaise | Dec 14, 2017 |
This novel, a historical fiction account of Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens and his relationship with his secretary Isabel Lyon, could have been so much better than it was. The writing is solid for the most part. However, I was distracted by a few editorial/proofreading misses (including mentioning Philip Keyes as the son of the man who wrote the Star Spangled Banner -- that should have been Philip Key) and at least one continuity error (Ossip Gabrilowitsch going upstairs with a hot water bottle for an earache, then returning downstairs a couple hours later with an ice bag on his ear). The copy I read from was the paperback edition, in which I would think those errors would have been corrected.

I found that this novel portrayed nearly every character as being unlikable, especially Clemens' daughter Clara. She was obviously a strong-willed person, who chafed under her father's larger-than-life personality, but in this novel she was also much too irritated by Helen Keller's characteristics -- wincing at her voice or observing that Helen Keller was vacant-eyed or sniffing the air like a rabbit. As a deaf person myself, I found this attitude offensive (and unsure whether it was even necessary for this novel) even though I know there are people in real life who have Clara's attitude.

As for why Helen Keller was in this novel, she was indeed a friend of Clemens. She is shown at the beginning and end of this book involved in a love-triangle with Annie Sullivan Macy and her husband, which may have been intended to mirror the alleged love triangle between Clemens, his secretary Isabel, and Clemens' wife.

I think I would have preferred to read a non-fiction account of Clemens' and Lyon's relationship over this novel. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Apr 26, 2017 |
I love Cullen's work! I gravitate towards books that take historical figures and facts and turn them into novel form and this title was excellent. I spent a lot of time googling images, videos and websites pertaining to the people in between the pages to learn more about them. Fascinating to get a new perspective on an icon like Twain.

( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain was not only an amazing author, but quite the character. Throughout his life he amassed quite a number of admirers, none more than those who were close to him- including many of his female staff. In his later years, Samuel Clemens employed Isabel Lyon as a secretary for his ailing wife. Soon, Isabel became Samuel’s constant companion and his own personal secretary. It does not take much to see that the relationship between the two has grown. However, a year before Samuel’s death, he blesses the marriage of Isabel and Ralph Ashcroft, his business manager only to besmirch their reputations one month later in an elongated written rant.
I love learning more about the lives of authors that I admire. I really didn’t know much about the man behind Mark Twain other than the fact that he piloted a riverboat and that he came in and went out along with Hailey’s comet. Lynn Cullen has taken much of her account for Twain’s End from the diary of Isabel Lyon. The writing creates a tense back and forth, cat and mouse game between Samuel and Isabel. The overall feeling that is created is tense and a little uncomfortable, especially if you would prefer to keep Mark Twain in a positive light. Isabel was quite intriguing, especially as she tried to do her best to keep herself distant from the man she knew she should not get involved with. As she became more and more entwined with the family, this became more and more difficult and eventually led Samuel to believe different about her. One of the things I found most interesting was Samuel’s relationship with his wife and daughters; I really knew nothing about Olivia, Jean, Clara and Susie. Olivia is still a little of a mystery to me, she was ailing through most of her time throughout the book, but no one seemed to know why. However, the mutual love between Samuel and Olivia was still evident even through his indiscretions. One of the most colorful characters for me was Isabel’s mother, always scheming, always putting her nose in other’s business and terribly worried about Isabel’s marriage prospects, a perfect busybody. Overall, a suspenseful, surprising and insightful tale about a different view of one of America’s greatest authors.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Sep 29, 2016 |
Known for his scathing satire and his ability to shine a bright light on individual hypocrisy and human foibles, Twain was not able to look at himself. Toward the end of his life, he spun out of control. Losing two daughters and a wife, hastily forced to make a world speaking tour because of impending bankruptcy, Twain became increasingly bitter.

This book focuses on the relationship he cultivated with his personal secretary Isabel V. Lyon, a person he claimed knew him the best of anyone, he blessed her wedding to his business manager, and then promptly wrote a 429 page rant calling her a thief, a liar and a person of ill repute.

Fueled by his only remaining child, his diatribes grew obsessive. It was a tangled relationship, still, why did Twain become so vehemently jealous and angry?

Taking the higher ground, Miss Lyon never met his anger with the same emotion. Failing to say anything derogatory about Twain, was the road she chose.

There are interesting tidbits in this book. I didn't know that Twain was a friend of Helen Keller.

This is a book worth reading, if you understand that it is written as a novel and thus knowing fact from fiction is difficult.

Three Stars. ( )
  Whisper1 | Jul 21, 2016 |
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"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. Isabel Lyon has gone down in history as the villainess who swindled Twain in his final decade. She never rebutted Twain's claims, never spoke badly of the man she called "The King," and kept her silence until she died in a tiny Greenwich Village apartment in 1958. So 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"--… (more)

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