This book was provided to me by Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.
She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.
As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. (via Goodreads)
If I have any sacred cow, it’s my thoughts surrounding Edgar Allan Poe and his works. Honestly, my theories are pretty mundane. He is one of those people who, despite being very intelligent and insightful in some subjects, just can’t get his life together. His finances are a mess. His love life is a shambles. His professional life teeters on the verge of collapse. Poe was a depressive and an alcoholic and life didn’t treat him very well besides.
The promise of Lynn Cullen’s Poe fit into my thoughts. Unfortunately, the Poe she gave me was pretty bland. The reader is told, over and over again, that Poe is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but he’s never really shown to be that way. The Poe of this novel is clean and sober. Aside from a few cutting comments to critics, he’s quiet and reserved. In one scene, he saves a kitten from a group of bullies. I’m not saying that Poe can’t have these qualities, but if our heroine is swooning about what a bad boy he is, we should probably see that first.
In general, the first half to two-thirds of the book is very repetitive. Over and over, Mrs. Osgood laments about her writer’s block, her poverty, her philandering husband. The encounters between Poe and Osgood are nearly the same until they finally kiss. The main twist of the plot didn’t come from nowhere, but it culminates in a rather befuddling series of events, especially since our Edgar has been recently established as the savior of kittens.
The other thing that bugged me about Cullen’s writing is the historical name-dropping. I’m sure that Baltimore in 1845 was a pretty happening place. Presumably, writers and other creative types got together salon-style to interact. Two writer characters in this setting probably knew plenty of people whose names we recognize 170 years later. But when Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the graham cracker, is given a paragraph to expound on the benefits of an organic diet, apropos of nothing particularly related to the plot, and Herman Melville is given a few lines about sailing in the Pacific, it starts to feel like every research tidbit ended up in the novel. It starts feeling more like a Who’s Who than details included to give depth to the setting. There would seem to be a line between good details and way too many random details. I don’t know where that line is at, and as writer I should probably investigate it more. For me, Mrs. Poe strayed over that line.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? Was interested in a Poe novel.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: There’s such a things as too many historical details.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I read this a while back, but I’m still going to link up the review here and there. 😉