Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Book Review: MARK TWAIN: A LIFE, by Ron Powers

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say at the outset that I'm a lifelong admirer of the subject of this lively, witty biography. Born and raised in Missouri, Clemens' home state, I, like many country boys of my generation, dreamed of floating down the Mississippi on a raft. I even tried to build one; it sank, which was likely for the best. But I digress.

Ron Powers evidences great sympathy for his subject without coddling or sugar-coating the crusty curmudgeon with the wild white mane. His prose is appropriately tongue-in-cheek at times--as Twain would have wished, I think--and his research is scrupulously thorough without adopting the plodding pace that plagues so many scholarly biographies. He allows the reader to marvel at the Sage of Hannibal as he glitters in all his brilliance... and as he curdles in his own self-centered blindness.

Best of all, Powers illuminates to great advantage Mark Twain's pointed social satire and political commentary, uncovering what was, for me at least, the important and previously unknown record of Twain's scathing critiques of U.S. expansionism and colonialist exploitation in places like the Philippines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Steaming upriver against the popular currents of the day, Twain anticipates by decades--and, in some ways, lays the groundwork for--the rhetoric of dissent that would become prominent in the 1960s.
For Twain junkies like me, or for anyone interested in the rise of the uniquely American literary voice before and during the Gilded Age, MARK TWAIN: A LIFE is a better find than the loot stashed in Injun Joe's cave.

Watch This Space...

Well, it has finally happened: I'm really going to try to join the blogosphere. I'll be posting book reviews, travel reports, and other miscellany that strikes my fancy. I might even put up some useful financial tips, vacation ideas, parenting thoughts, what have you. And, of course, the occasional creative piece that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else. If you've got a taste for the unusual, the random--the slightly tilted view of life, faith, and the pursuit of genuine joy... bookmark this page. It should be an interesting journey for all of us.