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Too little light shed on Twain’s work and legacy.

A portrait of Mark Twain’s final years offers some revisionist history but overloads a potentially compelling narrative with anecdotal minutiae.

With April 21, 2010, marking the centennial of the death of perhaps America’s most celebrated novelist, biographers will be aiming to shine new light on corners of that oft-explored life. Former Baltimore Sun fiction critic Shelden (English/Indiana State Univ.; Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, 1994, etc.) stakes his claim on the author’s final three-and-a-half years, a period during which he was in self-proclaimed “retirement” and had previously suffered his way through great tragedies, the death of his wife and young daughter and the collapse of his finances. Yet this is also the period in which Twain developed the persona that remains indelible in the public’s consciousness: the showman in the white suit, which he debuted at a Library of Congress copyright hearing less than four years before his death, and which Shelden milks for all it is worth (and more). Twain’s final years have often been perceived as dark and bitter, yet Shelden maintains he “was also funnier and a lot happier than later generations of critics and biographers have been willing to admit.” The attempt to sustain that theme runs counter to the more riveting plot that is in the margins through much of the book but moves center stage toward the end—the power struggle between Twain’s daughters and his secretary, who assumed much of the responsibility formerly handled by his wife, who may have had romantic designs on him and who ultimately conspired with, and married, his business advisor to try to take control of his fortune. Unfortunately, Shelden devotes too many pages to Twain’s honorary Oxford doctorate, trips to Bermuda, a bungled burglary, the singing career of his daughter and encounters between “the most famous, and the most beloved, person in America” with other famous folk, many of whom Twain neither knew well nor liked much.

Too little light shed on Twain’s work and legacy.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-679-44800-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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