Kurt Vonnegut once said of novels that “reading one is like being married forever to somebody nobody else knows or cares about.”
I couldn’t agree more while I find myself in a laborious relationship with The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. The novel is a fictionalized account of a Baltimore lawyer’s quest to solve the mystery behind the death of Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of those books with an interesting concept ruined by the author’s insistence on telling the story in the static, unimaginative style of prose from the stuffy time period in which the novel takes place. It’s makes for a dry, boring read. Much like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, I fear I may never finish it. I’m currently stuck at about the 100 page mark. I should’ve known better when I saw Carr’s glowingly positive blurb splattered on the cover of Matthew Pearl’s magnum opus. Though I find the topic of Poe’s death fascinating, reading Pearl’s novel makes me feel…well, dead.
And that brings us to James Joyce and “The Dead.” Thankfully for every bad novel I torture myself with, there are dozens of short stories I can read in between chapters that are as Vonnegut once described, “Buddhist catnaps.” Short stories provide perfect little meditative escapes from everyday life and respite from bad novels. Occasionally, I come across one that reaches the level of art. James Joyce’s “The Dead” is one such story. It’s possibly the greatest short story I have ever read. Continue reading