Book Review in The Mark Twain Annual, volume 11, 2013

By James E. Caron

In a short sketch that would be his last written effort for publication, "The Turning Point of My Life," Sam Clemens pretends to recount the most important event in his literary career as Mark Twain, one that led to all the other important events. Though the sketch can be read as a burlesque of deterministic thinking, scholars and biographers might use it to authorize their own candidates for the most important event in creating Mark Twain. Thomas Reigstad's candidate is the time Clemens spent living in Buffalo and writing for the Buffalo Express as part owner, from August 1869 to March 1871. … the strength of the book is its own biographical and historical focus, painting in details of Clemens working at the Express and setting up housekeeping with Livy in the elegant residence Jervis Langdon had presented to the couple as a wedding present. Reigstad adeptly employs letters to fill in the scene with people's attitudes and feelings, complementing the minute physical details of Buffalo circa 1870: for example, the boardinghouse where Sam first lived before his marriage, the street it sat upon, the buildings around it, the look of the street where the building that housed the Buffalo Express could be found, its interior, the interior and exterior of Sam and Livy's house, as well as other residences on their fashionable street. Reigstad also features vignettes of just about everyone who worked at the EXpress, from Clemens's partners, Josephus Larned and George Selkirk, to the African American janitor, Philip Lee. … The book notates the rhythm of Clemens's creative and business engagement with the newspaper, a rhythm alternating between manic bursts of energy pre-marriage, which included innovations for the paper, and a post-honerymoon precipitous lack of energy in carrying out his duties, which meant no follow-up to the innovations he had made, not to mention leaving routine editorial work to his partners. … one can forgive pride of place in this case, for there is much information in Reigstad's account. Morever, the book is well-written, giving the reader the general effect of a close-up shot of a particular environment for Sam Clemens as he continued his long transition from itinerant journalist to author, businessman, and married man.