In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe, newly arrived in Baltimore, disappeared for five days, finally surfacing drunk in one of that city's taverns; he died four days later. From this fact and some biographical clues, Marlowe (The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus) has woven his own dense, multilayered, Poe-like tale of doppelgngers, mesmerists and waking dreamers. The novel opens with Poe narrating his voyage aboard a steamer from Norfolk to Baltimore. Memories of his troubled life-his poverty, his drinking, his 13-year-old wife and his brother, both of whom died young-follow. These passages are intercut by third-person scenes in which the story takes a decidedly metaphysical-and convoluted-turn, as Marlowe tells the tale of a second Poe who is not in Baltimore but in Paris. In this shadow life, Poe's brother, who has not died, disappears under odd circumstances, prompting the writer to engage Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (of ``The Purloined Letter'' fame) to investigate. Dupin is baffled by the case, but Poe finds a mysterious stone shard in his brother's flat that leads him to an unusual young woman-and to still other alternate lives, to a distant island where an indigenous tribe has been bereft of a sacred idol and to a remote lighthouse where the writer witnesses the end of the world. Marlowe is a historical novelist of the first rank, with a deliciously supple and fluid prose style. But the structure of this tale is so confusingly complex (at one point, the narrative comes to us from an injured Poe, as told to a phantom Dupin, as overheard and recorded by Poe's physician-and then read by the physician's wife) that, in order to follow it, readers must perform a feat of detection as great as any accomplished by Dupin. Still, Marlowe makes Poe come alive in all his mad glory; and that is accomplishment enough to warrant applause. (Oct.)
Marlowe, a prolific science fiction and crime novelist, has published more than 50 books since 1952. Two of his most recent worksfictionalized biographies, like his newest workare the Memoirs of Christopher Columbus (Ballantine, 1989) and The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes (Bloomsbury, 1991). Re-creating the last days of Edgar Allen Poe, Marlowe here combines crime, science fiction, and biography. Part flashback, part dream or hallucination, part reality, and part fabrication, this fantastical story transports the reader without warning around time and space. Scenes are revisited; incidents are told and retold; Poe is in two places at once or he is two people in one place; people die and are resurrected; names and identities and personal histories shift as the story progresses. This fascinating, complex novel should leave one eager to sit down with a volume of Poe's own tales. Recommended especially for public libraries.Rebecca Stuhr-Rommereim, Grinnel Coll. Libs., Iowa
Mixing genres and styles, Marlowe has fashioned a novel based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. What begins as relatively straightforward biographical fiction quickly becomes a baffling blend of the real and the surreal. As Poe copes with creative frustration and unabating poverty, he finds himself intrigued by a story his sea captain brother, Henry, once told him--a magical tale of a remote South Sea island where Henry and his shipmates destroyed a stone god and brought disaster upon themselves. Henry claims he escaped with only a stone shard from the shattered idol--a shard that may possess magical powers. Poe sets out to recover the shard, perhaps as a way to escape the dreary frustrations of his life. As the tale progresses, characters from Poe's books step into reality; doppelgangers abound; and time blurs into a confusing blend of past, present, and future. Marlowe's premise is a fascinating one, and his writing is skillful and often engrossing. Whether readers will see this experimental novel as a brilliant work of art or a baffling maze, however, remains to be seen. Buy it because it will make a provocative addition to fiction collections.