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And so the great dictation comes to an end. It's been a wonderful adventure, and I'm glad I lived to read and hear all of it. As I may have mentioned in reviews of the earlier installments, I learned of Mark Twain's autobiography when I was about 12 years old, but it was always described as something fragmentary and unfinished and unpublished and unpublishable. But here it is, in perfectly comprehensible order, and here he is, talking to a stenographer, correcting himself as he goes along, backtracking, changing his mind, jumping back and forth through the years like a Time Lord - yet always in perfect control of the effect he's trying to achieve.
Among other things to be gleaned from this volume are that Mark Twain really, really disliked Theodore Roosevelt; and that he really, really, REALLY disliked his former secretary Isabel Lyon. Roosevelt was exactly the kind of aggressive, macho poseur that Twain despised: a warmonger and big-game hunter who charged up hills with guns blazing, no matter what the cost - to others. Twain tells an hysterically funny story of TR tracking a great bear for three days, only to discover, when he finally caught up with it, that it was a cow. Is it true? It should be.
Isabel Lyon is a more complicated case. The real meat of this story comes not in the autobiography itself but in a three-hour-long "prosecutor's brief" that Twain wrote, in the last year of his life, apparently to get his own thoughts in order. It's included here as an appendix. I've read about this episode from several points of view. After years of service, Twain fired Lyon and sued her for misappropriated funds. Some writers have suggested that Twain's mind was poisoned by his daughter Clara, who was jealous of Lyon for some reason. But I have to say that Twain's reconstruction of dates and financial transactions over a period of years is impressively full and detailed, and every epithet he uses to describe Lyon - liar, thief, embezzler, drunk - is supported by mountains of specifics. He certainly convinced me.
The autobiography proper ends with Twain's heartbreaking essay about the death of his daughter Jean. Coming at the end of his recollections - at the end of this journey of hundreds of thousands of words - it seems even sadder, even more bereft, than it does in standalone form. It's as if the rest were silence.
The reading by Grover Gardner is, as always, clear and perfectly paced. Disclosure: I've corresponded with Mr Gardner on social media, much of it complimentary. But I don't think that affects my objectivity: I've been a fan of his readings of Mark Twain for many years. This entry is no exception. He's one of the best.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Samuel Clements (Mark Twain), you will enjoy this autobiography. It explores the many sides of his personality. From renowned author to frequent lecturer to gullible investor to loving family man to revengeful victim, you will get the ultimate insider's look at his life and thinking
2 of 2 people found this review helpful