This book review is published in the October 2013 issue of Buckhaven Lifestyle magazine as
"Meet Mrs. Poe." Click here to view online version.
Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
How I Got It: NetGalley
October brings chilly weather, changing leaves, thoughts of Halloween and spooky stories told around a campfire. This October, fans of Edgar Allan Poe are in for a treat with the release of Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe. Set in 1845, Frances Sargent Osgood has been taken in, along with her two young daughters, by the Bartlett family after being abandoned by her philandering husband. Determined to provide an income from her writing, Frances is advised by a newspaper editor to transition from writing for ladies and children to instead focusing on "shivery tales" like Edgar Poe. The Raven is all the rage and newspapers are trying to duplicate its success. Desperate for inspiration Frances focuses on Poe during local salon gatherings. Fawned over by all of the ladies, and praised by his readership, Poe dismisses and degrades a majority of his peers causing many rivalries. Suspicions arise when he praises Frances and rumors begin to circulate that they are lovers. As this friendship grows so does the suspicion of Mrs. Poe. Married for ten years, since Virginia was thirteen and Edgar was twenty-three, the marriage has become strained by Virginia's consumption and Edgar's long hours at the paper. Aware of her husband's change in demeanor and lack of drinking since meeting Frances, Mrs. Poe desires a friendship with Frances as well. Out of guilt, Frances caters to Mrs. Poe's requests but Virginia's social ineptness and provoking demeanor unsettle her. Virginia's constant need of praise and sharp tongued judgements become too much t bear. Believing she is contributing to Virginia's decline in health, Frances vows to stay clear of the Poes and cuts off all correspondence. Unhappy with this turn of events, Mrs. Poe and her mother begin calling on Frances at the Bartletts as well as Poe himself, under the pretense of conversing with Mr. Bartlett. Strange coincidences become more common as Frances and Poe's friendship progresses to an affair. This love triangle between Poe, his wife and his mistress becomes more complicated as Frances attracts a suitor, her husband reappears and Mrs. Poe's health deteriorates.
The backdrop of great technological progress (gas lighting,) and construction (the building of a "central" park for New York) parallels the artistic advancements (daguerrotypes replacing painted portraits,) of the time. Lynn Cullen layers the social advancements and expectations of the time with these technological and artistic advancements to tell a story bursting with creativity. Incorporating the style and suspense of Poe's work, Cullen weaves a tale of macabre delight with Poe and his social circle as characters in late 1840s New York. Lunatic asylums, affairs, and accidents build the story to a climax and ending as heart stopping as anything Poe could have written himself.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously chosen Cullen's The Creation of Eve as one of the best fiction books of 2010 and Reign of Madness as a Best of the South selection in 2011.