Author Lynn Cullen's newest novel, Mrs. Poe, is a fictional look at the alleged intimate relationship between two 19th century literary powerhouses: Edgar Allan Poe and Frances Osgood. Both trapped in unhappy marriages during a time when divorce was simply not an option, Poe and Osgood were a central part of New York's literati...one would become a household name, the other would largely be lost to history.
As the title suggests, the novel takes great pains to encompass the ramifications of the literary couple's affair, specifically the emotional damage done to Poe's young wife, also - for those of you who know your Poe history - his first cousin. A beautiful young woman (Poe married her when she was only 13 years old) Eliza Poe was not known for her *ahem* mental stability. Needless to say, Cullen puts this to good use throughout the novel (what author worth her salt wouldn't?) and Eliza flits across the pages as creepy as anything Poe himself ever wrote.
Our protagonist, Frances Osgood, was herself an abandoned wife with two young daughters to raise living off the charity and goodwill of her New York friends. Her relationship with Poe was mysterious and while no one has ever been able to definitively prove she was sexually involved with Poe, it seemed a good bet at the time since he was known to eviscerate every other writer and poet he came across except, curiously, Frances' work. Given that she wrote poems about flowers and love (not exactly Poe's cup of tea), you can see where the rumors might have started.
Cullen gives us a sympathetic Frances who knows darned good and well that a relationship with Poe is not, repeat not, a good idea. But how many women have known that and been unable to resist anyway? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. So I kept reading. In fact, between the little bit of sexy Cullen gave Poe and the more than a little bit of creepy she gave the Mrs. Poe, I found myself picking up this book every chance I got. At the kid's soccer practice, at the doctor's office, waiting for the school bus.
Now I'm not saying this one is going to be nominated for any literary awards or anything like that. In fact, there was a small scene towards the end of the novel that was completely unnecessary and irritated me beyond reason. I had to decide later whether I was going to let that one stupid scene ruin the entire book for me. Ultimately, the answer was no if only because it only lasted a couple of pages and I could ignore it. If you ever pick up the book, you will know what I am referring to. But for now I will let it go (let it go, Michele, just let it go) and tell you that while the book isn't for everyone, it was an enjoyable light read for me if only because I've always loved Edgar Allan Poe (dead man crush alert). Cullen kept the plot moving, writing a suitably sexy Poe and deviously creepy Eliza. Kudos!
Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: October 1, 2013
Rating: 4 Stars