May’s dramatization of Poe’s epic battles with his demons, his young wife’s succumbing to tuberculosis, and bold Fanny’s determined resolution of an impossible predicament is at once meticulous and haunting as he sets personal heartbreaks against the greater conflicts of class inequities, slavery, and institutionalized misogyny. Compulsively readable, May’s ingenious and sensitive historical novel is impeccably literary and unabashedly romantic.
. . . well researched and full of minutia from 1840s New York.
Did any of this happen? Does it matter? May has told a riveting, well-written, romantic story.
—Greensboro News & Record
May’s book is fiction, of course, but his descriptions of Poe’s hand-to-mouth existence, his struggles with his business partners and publishers, and his complicated love affair are absolutely believable. When you finish reading Poe & Fanny, you will feel as if you have really lived for a year in the shoes of Edgar Allan Poe.
John May’s first novel is so captivating that I rushed eagerly through the pages, bent on learning what happens next to the star-crossed lovers, Edgar Allan Poe and Frances Sargent Osgood. It was only after I had, reluctantly, reached the end and emerged from its spell that I thought fully about what a remarkable accomplishment this book is.
The love story is compelling, told with delicacy and restraint that fits its antebellum setting . . . With the personal story of Eddy and Fanny as its centerpiece, this is a historical novel of the first order.
Upon reflection, it is obvious that May did a great deal of research . . . part of the genius of his book is that the extent of his research does not distract from the story.
It took a certain amount of courage and confidence for a first-time author to write historical fiction drawing on the life, and quoting liberally from the works, of a man who became one of America’s most honored writers. John May was up to the task; his shimmering prose is right at home in this novel about America’s literary heritage.
May fills in the scant factual record with fictional details to create a luscious novel that works both as a portrait of the literary class of pre-Civil War New York and as a love story.
—Fore Word Magazine
. . . a formidable first novel . . . It’s not really a whodunit, and it fails to solve the real mystery at its core, but it remains a vivid and consistently intriguing portrait of an historical moment. The soft-core romance, however, is almost a sidelight to the novel’s real attraction: A throbbing, lively reproduction of Victorian New York in all its glorious squalor.
Mr. May has done his homework. He re-creates his characters’ world believably, from the bluestocking soirees of old-time Boston to the New York theater stalls crowded with prostitutes.
He handles dialogue in a workmanlike fashion, making conversations sound Victorian without resorting to obscure vocabulary of the period. His portrait of Poe is believable: withdrawn, a bit tetchy, with an inflamed sense of honor and a hair-trigger temper.
Poe & Fanny could be a beach novel that’s actually good for you.
May’s narrative does an especially good job of capturing Fanny’s lonely yearning for Poe, and the chapters told from her perspective are perhaps the book’s most effective.
The characters in Poe & Fanny all march to their fates with little suspense, but John May does an admirable job of bringing Fanny and her poetry back to readers . . . poignant.
While May does not much endeavor to explore the haunted, arabesque side of Poe’s imagination, he does skillfully animate the artsy milieu in which Poe the love poet, editor and choleric belligerent moved, and at the same time, he engages and entertains.
These were the times that led Emerson to label Poe “the jingle poet” and Poe to call transcendentalists “Frogpondyists,” and May uses his significant powers to uncover the intrigues, the betrayals, the tomahawking reviews and cliquishness of the nascent American literature industry. If the principals emerge as somewhat precious and lacking in gravity, the author locates much of the blame in their environment and yet he keeps the story moving, the characters displaying more and more layers of appetite and ingenuity as his plot unfolds.
Readers will find themselves wondering what to blame most for Poe’s misfortunes. The vagaries of his profession? Liquor? Passion? New York? They’ll weigh for themselves how much of May’s plot might be factual, how much fabrication and how much a terrific guess. But page after remarkable page, they will have a hard time putting this novel down.
The author has spun a stunning yarn, tragic and achingly real.
—News Review [CA}
If you liked Ragtime, The Dante Club and The Crimson Petal and the White, you’ll like this one.
The novel contains beautifully exact historical detail . . . But what keeps the reader turning the pages is the author’s speculative portrayal of Poe’s relationships with his wife, his lover, and his mother-in-law . . . the novel is engaging, opening a window not only onto Poe’s personal life and thoughts, but onto the milieu in which he succeeded and suffered.
The way these people feel and act and talk and think as John May imagines may not be how they really carried on. I’d bet, however, that he’s pretty close. This is his first novel, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time . . .
—Star Democrat (Easton MD)
The documentary record is deficient, but John May has reconstructed this critical year in a masterful novel of historical fiction. With acute sensitivity, he makes New York, during the 1840s live again . . . He has written the story of bitter disaster Poe would have approved.
—Advocate (Baton Rouge)
May does a superb job of putting his characters across while never losing sight of the fact that the poetry matters most.
—Rocky Mountain News (Denver)