Twain's End

Mention of Mark Twain evokes riverboats, wry quips, Americana, a white suit and an ever-present cigar. But as in her novel Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen reveals another side of a literary icon in Twain's End, exposing a volatile and narcissistic Samuel Clemens, a controlling father and a partner in a complex relationship with his secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, his "Lioness."

By 1902, when 67-year-old Clemens hired 39-year-old Isabel, he was internationally revered as the king of American humor. Cavalier with his public, privately he was beleaguered: his wife, Olivia, was bedridden; his headstrong daughter Clara manipulated him; daughter Jean, epileptic, avoided him; and he'd lost his beloved Susy to meningitis. Isabel Lyon intrigued him--smart and attractive, she was forced to work following her father's financial downfall. While Sam hired her as Olivia's secretary, he claimed Isabel's time and, in short order, her affection. As part of the household, she suffered the maid's jealousy, Clara's temper and Sam's moods, yet forgave him all. He expressed his love, but even after Olivia's death would not make a commitment to Isabel.

With the blessing of her "King," Isabel wed Sam's business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, in 1909. Within a month, however, they were abruptly fired. Sam and Clara hurled slanderous accusations, plus charges of impropriety and embezzlement. The spurned couple settled in Wisconsin, and Isabel remained gracious, never speaking against Samuel Clemens.

Twain's End is a well-researched love story and history. Cullen based the novel on Isabel's extensive daily journals, newspapers and memoirs, and readers will savor this accessible view of the enigmatic Mark Twain. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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