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I Been There Before

by David Carkeet

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382515,998 (3.7)None
Mark Twain returns to Earth at the time of the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1985.
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The Library of America's newest Mark Twain omnibus included a sketch from this book—an apparently reincarnated Mark Twain visiting the present-day offices of the Mark Twain Papers in California, where his manuscripts are stored—that I found brilliant, so I searched for it. I've read many volumes of Twain, things written for publication and things not, and I have a pretty good feel for his distinctive voice. Carkeet nails it. The parts of "I Been There Before" that are supposed to have been written by Twain—mostly letters—are completely convincing, and their turns of phrases and sly jokes even made me laugh aloud, the way Twain himself so often manages to catch me by surprise.

The plot is interesting, too, as Twain comes to earth in a way that's as much as surprise to him as to anyone else, making his way handily through 1980s America, always one step ahead of (and in some ways behind) the academic investigators trying to track him down. There is an unfortunate subplot about a confidence man who falls in with Twain, then impersonates him, that overshadows the story of Twain himself. Because the story is told at a remove (mostly through the voices of the researchers, and through Twain's letters and sketches, which only give fragments of his experiences), the confusion is amplified and what should be the best parts of the story are obscured. In fact, I was so frustrated by the increasing farce of the impersonation story and by the mental hoops through which the narrative forced me to jump that I put the book down, not far from the end, and didn't pick it up again for over a month.

Twain's private life was always the weakest element of my knowledge of him, so I was fascinated by the light shed on his relationships with his older brother Orion (pronounced OR-i-on; who knew?) and daughters Susy and Jean. Although it was a frustrating reading experience, its high points were very high indeed, and I'd go so far as to call it a must-read for any Twain fanatic. ( )
  john.cooper | Apr 22, 2018 |
Carkeet does a pretty good job of weaving this story together. There are a few weak parts, but for the most part it holds together. The sections written as Mark Twain sound exactly like something Twain would have written. ( )
  Poemblaze | Oct 27, 2008 |
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Mark Twain returns to Earth at the time of the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1985.

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