Library Journal

In this intelligently drawn portrait of the complicated, volatile, and fiery man who was Mark Twain, Cullen (The Creation of Eve) explores the complex, tortured relationship between Twain and his secretary Isabel Lyon. Initially meeting over a game of cards years earlier, Lyon is eventually hired on as secretary to Twain’s wife but over time becomes a trusted friend and confidante to the author. Over the course of several years, the relationship between Twain and Lyon turns romantic, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Clara, embittered by her own relationship with a married man. But a month after Lyon marries Twain’s business manager in 1909, he fires the two and embarks on a slanderous campaign against her.

Verdict Cullen expertly portrays both Samuel Clemens, the real man behind the myth who displayed a fierce temper at home with his wife and three daughters, and Mark Twain, his charming, gregarious alter ego, the author everyone loved. Fans of historical fiction and biographies will enjoy Cullen’s book, which is similar to her previous novel Mrs. Poe in terms of style. Readers interested in Twain’s life and work may find this a valuable addition.—Mariel Pachucki, Maple Valley, WA

Pubishers Weekly

The extraordinary relationship between the popular, complicated author Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and his longtime secretary Isabel Lyon is wonderfully reimagined in this absorbing novel. Cullen (Mrs. Poe) depicts an immensely talented and virile, yet crude, hot-tempered, self-centered late-in-life Samuel, whose own children fear him and who remains tormented by his childhood with slave-owning parents—sordid realities that lie beneath the famous wit. Raised wealthy, Isabel must work after her father dies; she becomes social secretary to Livy Clemens, Samuel’s seriously ill wife, but in reality, she works for Samuel. Isabel is devoted, scheduling appearances, managing employees, paying bills and becoming the confidante to an aging, increasingly troubled, regretful man: “I kill the people I love with words,” he confides to Isabel. An intimacy develops, yet certain lines are not crossed. Messy romantic entanglements involving Samuel’s daughter Clara and her lover, Samuel’s business manager and Isabel, and even a visiting Helen Keller and her teacher’s husband make Samuel enraged and distrustful. Isabel and Samuel’s memorabilia are the basis of Cullen’s fascinating interpretation of this early 20th-century literary immortal, distinguished by incisive character portrayals and no-holds-barred scrutiny.

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