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by Thomas Hauser

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1999
ISBN: 1-56980-154-1
Publisher: Barricade

In his first novel in eight years (The Hawthorne Group, 1991), the author of Muhammad Ali (1991) and other nonfiction draws heavily on his interest in boxing. Better known as a journalist than novelist, Hauser here creates an ostensible memoir by Mark Twain. The story opens with the 75-year-old author contemplating his own imminent death: “This April will be my last.” Inspired by the heavyweight championship fight between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries, Twain recalls an incident from his own youth that serves as the primary narrative. As a young man making his way west, he finds himself in Kansas just before the outset of the Civil War and becomes involved with a cynical, manipulative former-slave-turned-promoter, Hiram Kane (who bears an uncanny resemblance to real-life boxing figure Don King), and with Kane’s own slave, an aging but gifted fighter known only as Bones. When young Sam Clemens cheats Kane out of his rights to Bones, the older man vows vengeance. Eventually, he—ll seek that revenge in a complicated scheme that plays upon young Sam’s romantic streak and burgeoning hormonal drives. At the outset, Hauser warns, “Throughout the manuscript I have commingled Mark Twain’s words and ideas with my own.” The result makes a queasy impact on the reader from the very first page. Hauser uses the benefit of a century’s worth of hindsight to make his fictional Twain even more prescient than the real one. Regrettably, Hauser’s Twain doesn—t write as well as the original, and the novel is riddled with lengthy passages of history that read like a college textbook—and with clichÇs that Twain would surely have eschewed.