Thursday, April 22, 2010

Never the Twain

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death, a good time to remember a great writer.

Twain always disappoints. He never outgrew his need to shock or clown or impress, an amusing thing in a Dave Barry-style humor columnist, but something a novelist cannot afford. The collapse of Huck Finn as it moves towards its conclusion is only the most famous example; every one of his books exhibits the same deficiencies. I tend to like Life on the Mississippi best because it is frankly a collection of sketches.

Not every novelist needs to be Henry James, but think how much good a touch of Mr James would have done Mr Clemens.

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