I read two of Lynn Cullen’s previous books --- REIGN OF MADNESS and THE CREATION OF EVE --- so when I heard about MRS. POE, I was more than excited. Not only do I enjoy Cullen’s writing, I couldn’t pass up a book about not just Edgar Allan Poe, but also his wife and a mistress.
Frances Osgood is a woman who is alone, thanks to a philandering husband who is off traipsing around Europe with another one of his muses. Without money or a place to live, her friends, the Bartletts, take her and her two young daughters into their home. Not only does it provide a safe haven for her small family, it also protects her reputation, which is in a frail state without her husband around. A poet and writer, Frances aims to provide for her daughters by selling her poems. Unfortunately, her creative muse left with her husband. She approaches a few publishers, but all they are interested in is shivery tales akin to Edgar Allan Poe’s fantastical poem, “The Raven.” While Frances would like to write more than the simple children’s tales for which she’s predominately known, she isn’t a fan of Poe’s work and can’t seem to find any inspiration for a tale that mimics his.
"For me, the timing of MRS. POE’s release is perfect. Something about October always makes me want to find my copy of Poe’s works on my shelf to peruse before Halloween. It has gone a long way in making me want to find that book and once more digest “The Raven”..."
However, when the opportunity to meet Poe at a literary gathering arises, Frances jumps at the chance. She hopes to understand the man a bit more and use the meeting as inspiration for her own writing. What happens is completely unexpected: Poe reveals to Frances that he is an admirer of her work. Thrown off by his statement, she finds herself intrigued by the man, more so than she probably should be. Attracted to a married man and with an absentee husband, Frances knows she should stay away to keep her reputation intact, but can’t seem to help herself. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Poe also seems taken with Frances, calling on her at odd hours and seeming to want more than Frances can give.
Entangled with both Poes on different extremes, Frances wants to act on her feeling for Poe but is full of guilt over every smile and glance, and worries about what would happen if his wife were to find out. While her circle of acquaintances begins to suspect something other than literary admiration, Frances’s life becomes even more complicated with the reemergence of her husband.
As she has done with her previous novels, Cullen has a way of making her female characters so appealing. She takes these women beyond their societal positions while keeping them securely tied to the very norms with which they want to break. I became invested in the lives of both Frances and Mrs. Poe. The two are complete opposites but with so much in common. Both are writers, poets mostly, and love the same man, although only one manages to remain sane even if much aggrieved throughout. Frances Osgood is an interesting person in her own right in this story. As a woman left to fend for her family alone, she becomes an outsider in her social circle simply because of her broken relationship. Mrs. Poe is also an outsider, but for so many different reasons.
For me, the timing of MRS. POE’s release is perfect. Something about October always makes me want to find my copy of Poe’s works on my shelf to peruse before Halloween. It has gone a long way in making me want to find that book and once more digest “The Raven,” reading in between the lines and wondering once more about its meaning.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on October 4, 2013