In a gathering of 13 stories written over four decades, the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn turns his attention to unconventional girls and women. The title piece shows Nancy Jackson escaping a lynch mob by disguising herself as a man, then getting entrapped into marriage by jilted, pregnant Kate Wilson, but the story’s lesbian overtones are muted. Twain, who never tried to publish it, may have been inspired by his daughter Susy’s live-in relationship with a college classmate. (Dad broke it up by taking Susy off to Florence.) There are other tales with roots in Twain’s personal experience. Many believe he adapted and idealized his late wife’s voice to create the sensible female narrator of “Eve’s Diary,” one of three related stories. “Hellfire Hotchkiss” is a classic American tomboy heroine modeled on a friend from Twain’s San Francisco days. The androgynous, fated heroine of “A Horse’s Tale” may embody the spirit of Susy, who was dead by the time her father wrote this story of an American steed sent to the bullring in Spain.
A less WASP-ish Twain, but as eccentric as ever.