July 10, 2020

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen


Mrs. Poe[amazon template=add to cart&asin=B00ADS36DM]Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

I found this book at a used bookstore (one of my favorites, maybe because I used to work there, and my dog got to work there, too), Eagle Eye Books in Decatur, GA.  Doug Robinson (bookstore owner, heavy reader, and all-around nice person) recommended it, so I took a look at that and a few others before I settled on Mrs. Poe.  I also happened to stumble into a group of friends wanting to start a book club, so this is our first selection.  Not only has it gotten excellent reader reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, it is seasonally appropriate with the upcoming Halloween holiday.

My Reading kit: Page Points from Levengers so that I won't damage the pages, two different color post-its, and the best "disposable" ink pen.
My Reading kit: Page Points from Levengers so that I won’t damage the pages, two different color post-its, and the best “disposable” ink pen

Honestly, however, I bought this book in paperback because I wanted to learn from it.  It fits the same historical fiction genre as my novel, The Square Grand, it has a female protagonist, and is set close to the same time period.  The setting is in a different part of the United States than my novel, but given that New York is always ahead of its time, and my setting is slightly forward in time and rural, I figured I could pick up something that might help me out.  Plus I love reading historical fiction.

I am still in the first 100 pages, but I am definitely enjoying myself.  She has used excellent sensory descriptions, most notably the sense of smell to ground our location.  The best example I have read so far is early on.  On page seven she writes,

“The wet had brought out the smell of the smoke rising from the forest of rooftop chimneys as well as the stink of horse manure, rotting garbage, and urine.  It is said that sailors can smell New York City six miles out at sea.”

Now that is a smell–and it also grounds the reader in a time when New York City wasn’t just pavement and taxi cabs.  The next paragraph she uses an impressive extended metaphor that was also very effective:

“Vehicles poured down the thoroughfare before me as if a vein in the city had been opened and it was bleeding conveyances down the bumpy cobblestones.”

The reason why this metaphor is so effective is that it alludes to a common metaphor for large cities like New York: that the city has a “beating heart.”  But Cullen manages to use that metaphor obliquely by referencing a vein.  Also, she used that anatomical structure correctly.  Veins bleed, arteries spurt.  I dislike writing where veins “spurt.”  Veins lack pressure, and therefore, there is no zombie-movie spatter to use as the metaphor for love, or bugs, or whatever.

I am about to go sit on the porch and read some more.

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