Our Critic’s Tip Sheet on Current Reading: Peter Ackroyd Briefly Resurrects Edgar Allan Poe, Birthday Boy
2:59 PM JANUARY 19, 2009
Grim is the only way to begin the story of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born 200 years ago this week; grim is the only way to end it. In between there’s poverty, drunken sprees, illness, dashed hopes, more drunkenness and a messy heap of bad behavior (Hemingway, operating on the two-birds-one-stone principle, once remarked that Faulkner was “almost as much of a prick as Poe”). And yet Poe managed to produce a body of work that’s frankly amazing and heroically perverse (the painter Robert Motherwell once called him “a one-man modernist”). The gothic tales and the poems (especially “The Raven”) made him briefly semi-famous, but never eased his financial misery. Born poor and swiftly orphaned, Poe died at the age of 40, crazed and broke and very much alone.
Right on time for his bicentennial comes Peter Ackroyd’s biography, Poe: A Life Cut Short(Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $21.95).