March 01, 2007


Evermore. Edited by James Robert Smith & Stephen Mark Rainey. Arkham House. $34.95.

      We just can’t let Edgar Allan Poe rest. Even now, nearly 158 years after his death in abject poverty in Baltimore at the age of 40, his ghost haunts the writers of supernatural fiction, including the 16 (no, not the obvious 13) who created the 15 stories in this anthology. Poe was just so good, so far ahead of his time in an understanding of psychology and unconscious motivation (which Freud was not to start analyzing until half a century later), that modern readers and writers still look on his short stories in awe. Or, to be more precise, they look that way on some of his short stories – the tales of terror and those of what Poe called “ratiocination,” but not at the far greater number of tales of attempted humor. And they look at some of Poe’s poems as well – “The Raven” most of all, and also “The Conqueror Worm,” “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee” and a few others – but not at his more complex and less accessible poetic works. As for Poe’s forays into metaphysics, such as “Eureka,” they tend to be simply ignored as if they are ravings…which they are not.

      The writers in Evermore keep their focus on Poe’s works by and large as narrow as other writers do, but the orientation of this anthology is different – which makes it conceptually quite interesting. These are stories about Poe, not (in most cases) in imitation of his writing. The authors imagine things that could have happened during Poe’s life, or in his life in an alternative universe, or after his death (but still to him), or in his last hours. From a few facts, such as Poe’s undeniable love for his child-bride, Virginia, and his being quite disgustingly drunk when found a few days before his death in 1849 (which is not to say that he died of drink; that remains very much in dispute), these authors weave tales of what-might-have-been and what-might-have-happened.

      The stories themselves are, not surprisingly, a mixed bag; also not surprisingly, none has even a whiff of Poe’s own astonishing style (although Joel Lane’s “All Beauty Sleeps,” wherein death is the ultimate lover, comes surprisingly close). Only a single story – “They Call Me Eddie,” by Rick Hautala & Thomas F. Monteleone – attempts anything approaching Poe’s odd and largely unsuccessful attempts at humor, casting Poe as a detective; but there are too many loose ends and plot roads not taken in this tale for it to be fully successful. There are vampire and vampire-ghost stories here (“Poe 103” by Ken Goldman, which is also a tale of possession, and “When It Was Moonlight,” written in 1940 by Manly Wade Wellman). There is a grotesque extension of Poe’s “The Imp of the Perverse” in Gary Fry’s “The Impelled,” but the tale doesn’t quite hang together; nor does John Morressy’s “The Resurrections of Fortunato,” which purports to continue “The Cask of Amontillado.” The story that draws on more of Poe’s oeuvre than any other in the collection is Charlee Jacob’s “Night Writing,” but it bites off far more than Jacob can chew, combining an insane asylum with an imagined raven-like something in Poe’s brain with time travel with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

      The style of the earliest tale here, “An Author and His Character” by Vincent Starrett (1928), is chronologically closest to Poe’s but not noticeably closer to his work’s effect than the style of such later stories as Trey R. Barker’s “In Articulo Mortis,” which extends (or, rather, overextends) “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” All the remaining stories have some points of interest: “The Clockwork Horror” by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, “Cloud by Night” by Melanie Tem, “From the Wall, a Whisper” (a title more of Lovecraft than of Poe) by Kealan Patrick Burke, “Of Persephone, Poe, and the Whisperer” by Tom Piccirilli, “The Masque of Edgar Allan Poe” (which should really be “mask”) by Steve Rasnic Tem, and “The White Cat” by Fred Chappell. But none of the tales really does justice to the poe-sy of E.A.P., although “Night Writing” does have the distinction of coming up with the word “poe-seurs.” It would be unfair to use that word to describe the authors here, but it is fair to note that, a century and a half after Poe’s death, his style remains unmatched and uniquely his own – so a book like this, which will likely be of interest only to dedicated Poe fans, is foredoomed to a degree of failure through the inevitable comparison of what it is with what Poe’s work was.

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