The life of a real-life forgotten entertainer and artist is recovered in MacBride’s biographical novel.

Merton Clive Cook (1868-1931), known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as The Great Clivette, was a true Renaissance man who traveled around the world. He narrates this faux memoir, in which he describes himself as the companion of Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, Buffalo Bill, and Mark Twain; indeed, he may have been the basis of “the Mysterious Stranger” in an unpublished Twain novel of the same name. Clivette worked at various intervals as a magician, tightrope walker, juggler, mime, lecturer, and painter. MacBride, a scholar of the late 1800s and early 1900s, found that Clivette was “strangely connected to everything in the entertainment world” around the turn of the century. Drawing on his collaboration with the Clivette family estate—which possesses a treasure trove of records, notes, clippings, and letters pertaining to its illustrious ancestor—MacBride offers the first book-length exploration of the artist’s life. As the author of more than a dozen books, from scholarly monographs and essays to SF novels and children’s books, MacBride has a history of experimenting with genres. This fictionalized work may alienate readers looking for a more traditional biography, and many may take exception with the narrator’s usage of problematic terms such as Indian. However, it effectively allows MacBride to bring Clivette’s larger-than-life persona, in all its self-aggrandizing hyperbole, to the fore. It’s also well balanced by a final chapter (“Fact from Fiction”) that parses out the accuracy of Clivette’s more “outlandish claims”; for example, Clivette’s meeting Twain is unconfirmed, but MacBride makes the case that their interaction was “likely.” Although the work lacks citations, the book does include a 12-page bibliography, and MacBride (who has a doctorate in 19th-century American literature) is careful to highlight gaps in the historical record. The book’s emphasis on engaging readers, in the impassioned, compelling spirit of Clivette himself, is reflected in its inclusion of more than 50 images, including posters and other ephemera, photos, and a gallery of Clivette’s art.

An absorbing story with a risky, genre-defying approach.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 9798987939314

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Salty Books Publishing Company, LLC

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023

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