Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Art: Poe in Modern Popular Culture by Christine A. Jackson

Author: Christine A. Jackson
Publisher: McFarland & Company
Paperback: 202 pages
Summary: (taken from back cover)
Greed and guilt, near-indecipherable codes, murder plots born of madness -- these motifs drive the best modern mysteries, but they are rooted in the early nineteenth century and the carefully constructed fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's methods of storytelling and suspense remain relevant, reappearing in detective novels and on screens large and small. This work examines a wide selection of today's mystery and thriller novels, films, television programs, and video games to explore Poe's continuing influence on popular entertainment. Authors such as Michael Connelly, Stieg Larsson and Dennis Lehane, television shows like The Closer and Dexter, and movies from Laura and Vertigo to Shutter Island and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all receive attention. The popularity of Poe's narratives in these contemporary guises is testimony to his visionary genius.
Overall Rating: 2/5

As individual essays about the themes found in modern-day mystery/thriller works and Poe's writings, this book may have worked. However, as a book with a supposed overarching theme of the influence that Poe has had in modern popular culture, it falls very flat.

While nobody can deny Poe's influence, Jackson discusses less about the direct connections between Poe and modern day works and more about common themes to be found in all of them. Some of this may be a direct influence from Poe, I thought many of the connections to be too tenuous to be labelled as "influenced by Poe." I would have been more comfortable if Jackson had said that there are echoes of Poe to be found in many works. Instead, she talks about his influence on shows such as the reality cooking competition show, Chopped. While the narrative structures employed by this show and Poe are similar, I think "influenced" is going a bit too far with the label.

The biggest problem for me was the overlong summaries and random anecdotes from the works Jackson attempted to link to Poe. Instead of focusing on how the works of Poe influenced a show such as The Closer, for example, Jackson spends two or three pages talking about the show in general and then detailing the characters, even though they seem to have no relevance to Poe's influence. This sort of thing happened for almost every film, television show, and novel discussed. It made the book incredibly tedious and added to the disorganization of ideas. It also made me confused as to exactly what Jackson was trying to make the connection between. There were only a few times where I actually understood what parts of the work in question were influences from Poe; most of the time I was left wondering how Poe came into the equation.

In short, I disliked The Tell-Tale Art. In terms of discussing themes, Jackson has some brilliant ideas and insights. However, it didn't deliver what the summary promised and the writing left a lot to be desired.

*I received a free copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review*