Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Steve Berman. Lethe Press, July 2013, ISBN 9781590213346. Reviewed by Claire Humphrey.
The project of queering Poe seems like a natural one: Poe’s work is full of love unspoken or unspeakable, beauty found in surprising or forbidden places, life buried, longing unfulfilled, all metaphors that resonate with those of us whose loves are still today considered controversial by our families or our culture. In Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, Steve Berman ably takes on the challenge, collecting stories and poetry that critically and lovingly engage with Poe’s life, work, and readership.
Many of the works take a straightforward approach, essentially rewriting a Poe story with the addition of an explicitly queer character. Of these, the one I liked most was Clare London’s “Telltale”, which reconstructs “The Tell-Tale Heart” with an explanation for the protagonist’s conduct which is more relatable than that in Poe’s original.
Even more interesting stories, though, take the project a step or two further. Some stick close to the source material but shift viewpoints in striking ways: for instance, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s wonderful “Variations of Figures Upon the Wall” explores Rowena from Poe’s “Ligeia”, pushing back against Poe’s dimensionless characterizations of women–beautifully dead or horrifyingly undead–with a vigorous and elegant agency. Similarly, Christopher Barzak’s “For the Applause of Shadows” gives voice to the voiceless double in “William Wilson”, turning the story from a meditation on narcissism into a satisfying revenge against a hypocritical lover.
Some of the works recontextualize Poe: Cory Skerry’s “Midnight at the Feet of the Caryatides” takes “Hop-Frog” up impossible heights, in the anthology’s most original story, pulling in classical elements that Poe would recognize along with more fantastical ones that feel delightfully fresh. Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “The Raven and Her Victory” is a poisonously beautiful elaboration on Poe’s themes of the house as a body trapping the soul and the poem as a mystical structure doing the same.
Finally, some pieces make liberal use of Poe’s themes and imagery to construct narratives of their own. Richard Bowes’ “Seven Days of Poe” is a gay boy’s coming of age in Boston in 1960, where, in the words of the boy’s older friend, “when you’re a queer kid and everyone hates you for stuff you can’t help, you can either die or make them afraid.” This story makes the most explicit connection between gay life and the horrific othering within Poe’s work, and the result is gritty, poignant and memorable. Alex Jeffers’ “A Portrait in India Ink by Harry Clarke” is as gorgeous as the picture to which the title refers, limning a young man’s sexual awakening in the fascinating lights of a migraine aura.
All in all, a beautiful collection, and one to be savoured, especially for a reader who knows and loves Poe–and if you are not such a reader, I recommend becoming one.