Mark Twain and Matilda Trumble–Whoda Thunk It
One THE best parts of Christmas Break is the long lulls of doing absolutely nothing but reading. No papers to grade, no clock watching so I don’t read past my reasonable bedtime, and no morning rush out the door. I can read whenever I want to. I groove on that concept.
I have a large bag of books from the library with each selected book waiting patiently for its turn. Bag stuffing, is what I call this. I stuff my canvas library bag with all sorts of different reads. If I start one and it doesn’t work for me, ehh, I pull another one out. Kind of like eating grapes, with so many selections I can be a bit more discerning, casting aside that which doesn’t immediately please my palette.
One of my selection methods is to shelf cruise. I chose one alpha row and prowl up and down until BINGO, the title, size, color speaks to me and I grab it. This is how The Mark Twain Proposition by Gina Cerminara came home with me.
At first I thought Cerminara was trying to emulate Twain’s style, her proposition. She had the quaint storied chapter titles down: “In Which We See That A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell the Same; but The Question Is: How Would It Sound?” as well as the inflated diction:
This demonstration of the power of a newspaper columnist’s maneuver was impressive to Elwood, and had he been a different type of man he might have exploited it further.
She also had the stereotypes perfected as well: Elwood, the long-suffering curmudgeon husband; Matilda, the charming yet scatter-brained housewife looking for a cause; genial African-Americans whose demeanor prove what louts most Caucasians tend to be (this was set in the late fifties). Assorted greedy villains, prejudiced neighbors and relatives fill in the gaps. There is also a moral theme, a sticky conflict, and a couple of awkward situations.
Sounds rather banal? Not at all. Then I discovered her real proposition stems from the following quote Matilda finds by Mark Twain:
[I hold myself] responsible for the wrong which the white race has done to the black race in slavery…a reparation [is] due from every white man to every black man.
Matilda and Elwood move from their narrow-minded little town to New York City, Harlem to be precise, where she will begin her version of reparations by creating a multi-racial club, donating to various African-American projects and causes, and become an ambassador of sorts. Elwood, her husband, moves to Harlem for the culture, and goes along with her cause, yet does not particularly embrace it.
Mind you, this is set in the late fifties, just before the Civil Rights movement, so there is a variety of mentions that may not be considered politically correct. A nod is given to Rosa Parks, MLK, and assorted other personalities who attend Matilda’s meetings on different occasions.
While Twain tended to his causes through his dry, subtle humor, Cerminara pulls out the stops and with her own style and wit announces her own agenda, not always with aplomb.The book tackles the race issue straight on without blinking; however, Cerminara creates such an obvious stage with her obvious tribute to Twain’s style it is very much like attending a period play. I absolutely relished this read and give it a four star glow rating. If you enjoyed The Help I suggest this read as well. Skeeter and Matilda would have gotten along quite well together.
Even though Mark Twain is singular in style and approach, and we are forever thankful he took on the race issue in his own manner, The Mark Twain Proposition pays a decent and enjoyable tribute to a man who brought a conscience to a nation.