THE INVENTIONS OF MARK TWAIN by John Lauber

THE INVENTIONS OF MARK TWAIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A readable but oddly limited narrative of familiar events in Twain's life--with an emphasis on the middle years, from 1869, just before Twain's marriage, to 1891, when the family moved for a crucial decade to Europe. The first 35 years, what Twain himself called ""the good time years""--the impoverished boyhood and successive careers as a printer, riverboat pilot, miner, adventurer, journalist--were covered in Lauber's The Making of Mark Twain (1985) and are compressed into the first 23 pages here. The last 20 years, up to his death in 1910 at age 75, are equally compressed into the last 32 pages, leaving the hectic middle 22 years to represent nearly the whole life. Consequently, in place of the fascinating and mercurial author, his creative struggles, personal tragedies, and international acclaim, we have an itinerant businessman, preoccupied with money, logistics, social status, a lecturer whose voice is never heard, someone for whom writing is a hobby. The inventions to which the title refers include Twain's creativity as a writer (into which we are offered no insight); his self-invention based on the description of the sanguine personality he discovered in a phrenology textbook, and its various manifestations as country lout, Victorian gentleman, and capitalist; and his own actual inventions, including a bedclamp to secure both baby and blankets. Further, while Lauber mentions the technological inventions in which Twain delighted--the telegraph, telephone, typewriter, and oversized rubberwheeled bicycles--he doesn't explain their impact or significance. The lack of explanation, exploration, and analysis here, the absence of big scenes, human voices, and a critical perspective or historical focus, and the artificially animated but predictable style make this at best a reference work for such events as dinner parties, summer holidays, and appeals for charity--all the stuff that Twain complained interfered with his being a writer.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux