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BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl (Random House, 2006)

August 25, 2007

“Poe once wrote in a tale about the conflict between the substance and the shadow inside of us. The substance, what we know we should do, and the shadow, the dangerous and giggling Imp of the Perverse, the dark knowledge of what we must or will do or secretly want. The shadow always prevails. ”

So writes young Quentin Clark, the fictional protagonist in Matthew Pearl’s bestseller, The Poe Shadow. Mr. Pearl has given us an elegantly written historical novel that explores the dark mystery surrounding the death of one of America’s greatest writers, Edgar Allen Poe. Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, following four days of delirium in mysterious circumstances that, in the light of subsequent, sensational newspaper reports, have forever colored his legacy.

After intensive investigation and meticulous research, Pearl has crafted a fictional account of what may have caused Poe to arrive unexpectedly in Baltimore, with ill-fitted clothes, incoherent ramblings and a mysterious illness that eventually took his life. The author immerses the reader in the culture, language, politics and morays of the mid-nineteen century world. His tale is so finely woven, his “voice” so authentic, his characters so multi-layered that I think Poe himself would be impressed. Indeed, the best compliment I can give is that Mr. Pearl’s story is reminiscent of Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin mysteries, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter.

In the context of the exploring the circumstances of Poe’s demise, Pearl examines the complex interplay of substance, the pressure to live his life in conformity with his station in life, and shadow, Clark’s internal compulsion to solve they mystery of Poe’s death and rescue his reputation. That obsession threatens the loss of all that Clark has, including the love of his long-suffering fiancé.

For Christians, who live daily in the conflict between what we should do (substance) and what we want to do (shadow), this story is a helpful reminder that our hope lies in the shadow of Another that has fallen across our souls and under which we will one day dwell forever.

Highly Recommended.

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