Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pearls AND Swine!

The Poe Shadow
Matthew Pearl


First Junebug, and now this. Maybe I'm a bit pissy lately, but this book drove me crazy, and by the time I realized it was probably not going to redeem itself I had devoted too much time not to finish it.

The story chronicles a young lawyer in 1850's Baltimore who puts everything in his privileged existence on the line to posthumously defend the reputation of Edgar Allen Poe from the scandalous press coverage which followed his death in 1849. While ostensibly dealing with some factual underpinnings, it is a work of fiction. A more detailed summary than this would require all 384 pages, so this is all the overview you get.

I should know better than even to try things of this period. I'm always frustrated by the maddening social conventions of the time which make even simple interaction such a trial. Just as I cannot abide the fussy, constipated stylings of Dickens (I always want to say "Dikkens with two K's, the well-known Dutch author" a la Monty Python), this story--written in the same manner--unfolded with such an infuriating failure of the central characters to speak their minds or head off each impending disaster with a simple statement that I almost thralled to hear of their subsequent misfortune. A hundred times I found myself rolling my eyes and cursing the clumsy mechanisms by which the plot was kept alive when common sense would otherwise have called a halt to the proceedings; and when, at the end, some of the key explanations of the convoluted, Rube-Goldberg plot were kept hidden by a "private conversation" which our narrator was bound by honor not to betray--the baldest deus ex machina imaginable--I wanted to machine-gun the entire city and all its inhabitants and their descendants and even their housepets.

Be thankful, dear reader, that I sampled the book in audio format so that I am unable to fill page after page with infuriatingly obtuse dialog and suffocating social conventions (like Jane Austen but without her spectacular command of the language).

For all I know, I'm the only person who read the book and is not thrilled (indeed, looking on Matthew Pearl's website there are numerous paragraphs which are at least held up as praise). But it pissed me off such that his first novel, The Dante Club, has been removed from my list!

This is why I read so little fiction. Ugh.


dbackdad said...

Ha-ha. I love your reviews. I'll spare myself the need to gouge out my eyes by reading this book. I trust your judgement.

wunelle said...

Stay away, I implore thee! It's for your own good!!!