Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Edgar Allan Poe”

ElCicco #CBR4 Review#48: Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

Care of Wooden Floors is a sometimes amusing, sometimes unsettling novel, with several tips of the hat to Edgar Allan Poe. The story’s narrator, an Englishman who is never given a name and whom I shall hereafter refer to as “N,” has just arrived in an East European country to stay at his friend Oskar’s flat while he’s in California. Oskar is a successful composer, fastidious and demanding, with high standards for everything — music, food, drink, living space. The man loves and craves order. His best known composition is based on the theme of tram schedules and he is working on a piece that will be an homage to the Dewey decimal system. His apartment is a newly renovated masterpiece with fine wooden floors. When it comes to things, Oskar demands and gets the best. When it comest to people, he is often disappointed. His wife has left him and returned to California to divorce him (the reason for his absence) and his friend, the narrator, is watching the apartment and cats while Oskar is away.

Why Oskar is friends with N is puzzling to both reader and narrator. N is not particularly successful at anything in his life. He wants to be a writer but is employed as a pamphleteer for his local council. His girlfriend has left him, his apartment is a dump. Oskar and N met in college and maintained a friendship, it seems, because N was the only person willing to put up with Oskar’s persnickety ways and Oskar has worked at maintaining the friendship over time despite his seeming disdain for N’s slovenliness and overall mediocrity. Their personalities are quite opposite. In telling N about his divorce, Oskar says, “People say, this is difficult, that is difficult. It is an excuse for failing, for doing something wrong. It is not difficult — it should not be difficult. As long as there are some rules, some agreements, people should know how to do things, then everything should be easy.” For N on the other hand, “Perfection is aggressive. It is a rebuke.”

When N arrives, Oskar has already gone to California and has left written instructions for N throughout the apartment, often in unexpected places, as if he knows in advance what N  is going to do. Oskar is especially concerned about his floors and has left explicit instructions to call him if anything happens. Naturally, something does happen and N does not call. N seems afraid of Oskar’s reaction but also welcomes the opportunity to put one over on Oskar by somehow hiding what he has done. N thinks he can fix the problems, but as he bumbles about, trying to salvage an increasingly degenerating situation, it is as if Oskar has anticipated every fumble that N would make and has a note waiting. This contributes to N’s frustration and makes him more adamant that he will not give in, he will not call Oskar.

In some ways, this story is like one of those contemporary Hollywood comedies wherein the “hero” is a drunken lout who, through carelessness and bad luck, has to deal with problems that get worse as he tries to fix them. N actually compares his situation to that of Wile E Coyote at one point. Since the narrator is indeed a drunken lout, and he is presenting from his point of view alone, the reader is not always sure if N’s version of events is accurate and truthful. And as story progresses, the reader knows something truly awful will happen. In fact a couple of really awful things happen, and the reader might start to wonder about the reliability and mental stability of the narrator.

Care of Wooden Floors is quite suspenseful and drives the reader forward to see what is going to happen. I was not wholly satisfied with the ending of the novel. I had hoped for something unexpected, even macabre, but the author gives us something worthy of a Hollywood comedy (and not a terribly funny one). Overall, it was an okay book and I feel bad saying that because I feel like I should have loved it. Just didn’t.

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Siege’s #CBR4 #30: Nevermore by Harold Schechter

In which Edgar Allan Poe and Davy Crockett solve a mystery, and Siege is highly amused.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #57: The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

This is my third Bayard novel so far, and I have found each more exciting than the next. The Pale Blue Eye is not only a first-rate crime thriller and a slice of well-researched history, but as beautifully written as the poetry and prose of the American icon who appears as one of the novel’s main characters, the enigmatic Edgar Allan Poe.

As in his earlier novels reviewed here by me, Mr. Timothy and The Black Tower, Bayard’s approach is to create a fictional character to serve as the foil for his historical character, and weaves around them both a plot of exceptional intrigue while perfectly capturing the 19th century period in which he centers his stories.  In this story, he creates Augustus Landor, a reclusive widower and former police detective who has moved to the upper Hudson valley of New York to recover from tuberculosis and is called upon by Sylvanus Thayer, known as the “Father of West Point,” to quietly investigate the murder and mutilation of first one, and then a second cadet at the famous Academy.

Landor reluctantly comes out of his seclusion and accepts the charge, but asks for first year cadet Edgar Allan Poe to assist him in his investigations, and the two highly intelligent but hard-drinking misfits–one a cynical loner and the other a friendless poet—eventually pursue the clues to the doorstep of the Marquis family, whose head is the Academy’s physician, whose son is a charismatic fourth-year cadet at West Point, and whose daughter captures Poe’s heart along the way.

The book’s chapters mostly take the form of narratives or reports on the investigation which alternate from the pens of Landor and Poe, and Bayard captures the incisive tone of the detective’s observations and the poetical genius of the lovelorn poet with equal brilliance. The novel’s many characters are made so real to the reader that one experiences the manic-depression of Mrs. Marquis as exquisitely as one does the desperation of Academy commander Hitchcock to clear the name of West Point in the face of the (historically true) campaign by the Andrew Jackson presidency to shut it down.

The bulk of the novel is devoted to setting the stage, giving us a feel for the Academy’s rigid regimen, the harsh winter,  the brutal murders, and very slowly builds suspense as the focus of the investigation shifts from one suspect to the next, the clues slowly accrue, and Poe and Landor’s friendship evolves into something profound. The many layers of the story—the murder investigation, Poe’s love affair, Poe’s relationship with the detective, the fate of West Point itself—give a satisfying depth to this novel, and the climax—the real climax, that is—is as stunningly presented as it is totally unexpected.

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