Unorthodox but admirable mix of fiction and biography.


Edgar Allan Poe


From the The Ambiguities series , Vol. 1

Cafiero (Vincent Van Gogh: The Ambiguity of Insanity, 2015, etc.) investigates the life of recently deceased Edgar Allan Poe via an invented editor in this hybrid work of fiction and biography.

At the Old Swan Tavern in Richmond, Virginia, some of Poe’s acquaintances have gathered to recall the dead man’s demons. Present are Dr. Joseph Evans Snodgrass, who knew and treated Poe, and Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe’s rival and detractor. From these men, the editor hears rumors of Poe’s trauma, grief, insanity, and addictions, some or all of which led to the end the underappreciated poet’s life. Yet the editor’s curiosity is not satiated: “The editor then thought it time to leave the tavern...and to begin to examine Edgar’s life by means of his stories.” The Old Swan is merely a launching pad for an investigation—Poe was, after all, the inventor of the detective story—that takes the editor from the rotting docks of Cape Charles to a gray limestone asylum in New York to the lonesome lighthouse of Cape Hatteras and the ominous alleyways of Baltimore. Along the way, the editor is guided by Poe’s work and their ties to the places of their composition as well as the grim history of the author, his family, and his nascent nation. Always too late to save his dead subject from himself, the editor begins to bump up against the same existential madness that consumed Poe. Cafiero’s prose, translated from the Italian by Christie, seeks (and often succeeds) to evoke the dense, frantic style for which Poe is so famous: “Glittering reflections of moonlight. The Schuylkill River. The impalpable figure of a woman suddenly began to turn in the air. A woman. Which woman? Perhaps a mother or even a child-wife.” Readers interested in straight biography or gripping mystery might want to look elsewhere, yet those interested in the relationship between author and subject—between admiration and obsession—will enjoy this inspired love letter to Poe.

Unorthodox but admirable mix of fiction and biography.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-92-527195-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Australian eBook Publisher

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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