Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chasing the Last Laugh: More Documentary than Interesting Read

Book Review: Chasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks

This will be a short review. I found this book tedious reading. Although I was once a fan of Mark Twain and, in fact, have a collection of his works, this biography of his latter years came off for me as more documentary than interesting narrative.

At the end of the 19th century, Mark Twain was once America's best paid author. But through faulty investing and a senseless trust in those who handled his money, Twain fell on hard times. His wife Livy had a rich inheritance and Twain spent through a good part of that as a result, but she felt honor bound to pay back their debts, even as they faced the embarrassment of bankruptcy.

This book is about the solution Twain and a close associate devised to help pay off their debts and earn money to live on. And that was a year long trip across the United States and to Australia, New Zealand, India, and other parts of the world on a speaking tour, where Twain could entertain audiences with his wit and wisdom. It gets into very specific detail about his debts, their causes, and those who tried to help him overcome them.

In all fairness to the reader, I didn't finish the book. It was a depressing read and I found it not humorous as his writings often were. The detailed accounting of his life's miseries and setbacks dragged me down. I suppose it was important to tell the whole story, but it wasn't my kind of read.

Mark Twain was an American original. Knowing about his later years probably makes this an important read, if you can wade through the detail and get through the morbidity of his failures. But then you lose the sense of the mythological humor figure that was Samuel Clemens. In this case, you aren't chasing the last laugh at all.

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