Book Review: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, by Edgar Allan Poe

I came by this one by Paul Theroux's recommendation: in The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux reads many books on many different trains, and throws not a few of them into the literary dustbin. Among the few to survive his no-nonsense critique is Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe's only full-length novel, which was happily included in USHER, a collection on Poe's stories.

Now, I read "The Tell-Tale Heart" in freshman English, so I was at least dimly familiar with the creepiness of Poe, but I'd forgotten how downright spooky his stories can be--rotting corpses, demonic cats, the whole bit. I'd also forgotten how much the guy can talk and talk while setting up a short story, and how the first three pages of each story can be dedicated to a plea on behalf of the main character's sanity (a paraphrase: "The story I have to tell is so strange, so unnatural, that it shall surely bring my sanity to question, but I swear by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin that I am a good man, that my friends will support me when I claim to be completely, soundly, rock-solidly not mad")--in a seven-page story, this can take up quite a lot of story-telling time, so I ended up skipping a few stories with such openings in order to hurry up and read Pym. Was it worth it?

Heck yeah.

In a 100-page-plus novel, there's room for a bit of that reflection on behalf of the character. And once Poe gets that out of his system, the spookiness begins, and oh, boy. I was amazed at how quickly I got sucked right into Pym's narrative, particularly during his time spent in the hold of the Grampus, and though Pym does have its lulls, there are scenes from this book that will surely haunt me for a long time, in a satisfying sort of way.

I will say that a very strong aversion to deep water of any sort (I've been known to pull my sweatshirt over my face during previews for Poseidon) made the story triply alarming, and only thinly bearable in spots--a bit like Life of Pi, actually.

Speaking of Pi, did anybody else catch the appearance of one Richard Parker in Pym? Coincidence? I think not.


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