The Lighthouse at the End of the World: 9

Stephen Marlowe, Author Dutton Books $23.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-94049-4
In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe, newly arrived in Baltimore, disappeared for five days, finally surfacing drunk in one of that city's taverns; he died four days later. From this fact and some biographical clues, Marlowe (The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus) has woven his own dense, multilayered, Poe-like tale of doppelgangers, mesmerists and waking dreamers. The novel opens with Poe narrating his voyage aboard a steamer from Norfolk to Baltimore. Memories of his troubled life--his poverty, his drinking, his 13-year-old wife and his brother, both of whom died young--follow. These passages are intercut by third-person scenes in which the story takes a decidedly metaphysical--and convoluted--turn, as Marlowe tells the tale of a second Poe who is not in Baltimore but in Paris. In this shadow life, Poe's brother, who has not died, disappears under odd circumstances, prompting the writer to engage Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (of ``The Purloined Letter'' fame) to investigate. Dupin is baffled by the case, but Poe finds a mysterious stone shard in his brother's flat that leads him to an unusual young woman--and to still other alternate lives, to a distant island where an indigenous tribe has been bereft of a sacred idol and to a remote lighthouse where the writer witnesses the end of the world. Marlowe is a historical novelist of the first rank, with a deliciously supple and fluid prose style. But the structure of this tale is so confusingly complex (at one point, the narrative comes to us from an injured Poe, as told to a phantom Dupin, as overheard and recorded by Poe's physician--and then read by the physician's wife) that, in order to follow it, readers must perform a feat of detection as great as any accomplished by Dupin. Still, Marlowe makes Poe come alive in all his mad glory; and that is accomplishment enough to warrant applause. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1995
Release date: 10/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-452-27556-0
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