The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories was the last Mark Twain miscellany released during his lifetime. A lot of it is recycled — some of these pieces were things I was seeing for the third or fourth time — but the first few stories are new.

The first one is about a husband and wife who are tormented to death by a distant relative with a nasty streak.

The next is about a dog who is crippled and whose puppy's brains are bashed in with a hammer.

The next is about a mother and daughter who die of a wasting illness while a couple of relatives agonize over the philosophical implications.

The next is about a man who goes mad when his wife is murdered.

Eventually we get to one in which a guy is offered a number of wishes and learns that death is the greatest gift of all.

In short, these are the screeds not just of a cynical man, but of a bitter, miserable one. As a young man, Twain had written to his brother that he was determined to become rich, "so you can easily see that when you stand between me and my fortune (the one which I shall make, as surely as Fate itself,) you stand between me & home, friends, and all that I care for—and by the Lord God! you must clear the track, you know!" And he succeeded. He became rich. He became extremely famous; in the first decade of the 20th century, he may not have been the single most famous living human being in the world, but he was in the conversation. Monarchs and holy men wanted to talk with him about Huck Finn. His wealth wasn't limited to the material world, either: he had friends and a loving family... he had everything he'd ever wanted, really. But he'd never learned how to deal with loss. So when he squandered his fortune in bad investments, when his favorite daughter and his wife died, it pretty much destroyed him. Though he continued to put on his white suit and pose for pictures as the embodiment of American literature, he'd been reduced to writing stories that could have been written by a depressed 14-year-old.

This was probably a good time for me to read this book, actually — I've finally returned to working on my second book after a long hiatus and it's been typically slow going. I was starting to feel frustrated about the fact that taking ten years to write each book is no way to get any momentum going in one's writing career. So it is nice to have a reminder that even one of the most stratospheric writing careers in history meant nothing where happiness was concerned. Well, nice for me. Not so nice for Twain.

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