15 January 2014

Wednesday's Reveiw: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
List Price: $26.00 Hardback
               $11.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher : Gallery Books

My Ratings: 3.75 out of 4 stars

Contrary to what the title might indicate, this book is not a fictional account of the life of Edgar Allen Poe's wife.  Instead author Lynn Cullen presents us with a story narrated by American Poet Francis Osgood regarding the complex relationship between herself, Poe, his wife, Virginia.   Although most of Cullen's book is pure fiction, she begins with a few kernels of truth.  Francis Osgood did meet her husband Charles in the manner included in the book.  He did leave her to fend for herself in NY with their children.  Francis Osgood did have a relationship of sorts with Poe, they did spend time together and correspond with each other.  Poe's wife, Virginia, was sickly and did help foster the relationship between her husband and Osgood.  In fact, biographers say that Virginia Poe actually helped to foster the relationship as she felt that Osgood was a good influence on the unstable Poe.  Most everything else in Cullen's story is pure fiction, which she uses to tell a great story about one of the most interesting figures in American writing.  

I really enjoyed the way that Cullen took a historical relationship that was not ordinary to begin with, and made it into a complex interaction between three people who lived unconventional lives.  Through the character of Francis Osgood we get a glimpse of how life was for women writers in the the mid 19th century.  A time when women were still trying to be taken seriously in the field of prose.   Cullen's Poe is a man at war with himself and his various demons.  Given Poe's reputation and his writing, this Poe is entirely believable.  Even the sickly Virginia Poe gets to be more than just a "behind the scenes" character.  I also enjoyed the cameo appearances by other historical figures such as John Astor, Louisa May Allcott, and Walt Whitman and the little historical tidbits that she included such as the origin of the graham cracker.   

When all was said and done, though, the thing that I liked the most about this book was the way that Lynn Cullen used Edgar Allen Poe and his life to craft a very Poe-like story.  As the story progresses I began to suspect that something else was going on besides just the historical recounting of the possible relationship between these three people.  Just like a Poe story this book takes a bit of a dark turn, which kept me engaged and came to a satisfying conclusion. 

Yes, I was drawn to this book by the title and the idea that it would focus on the life of Poe and his wife, I found, though, that I really enjoyed the story as presented, as well as appreciating the amount of research Cullen did in order to be able to insert the historical kernels that were in the story.  So if you are looking for an interesting take on the story of  Poe, Virginia, and Osgood,  one with a bit of a fanciful twist, this is the book for you.  If you are looking for a serious biography about Poe or his wife, I would skip it.