Saturday, September 15, 2007

Matthew Pearl's "The Poe Shadow"

Matthew Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club, has been an international bestseller translated into more than 30 languages. His highly anticipated second novel, The Poe Shadow is another New York Times and international bestseller.

Pearl applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Poe Shadow and reported the following:
There are actually two different page ninety-nines for The Poe Shadow — in the hardcover and in the paperback — but because the paperback is out more recently, let's stick with paperback 99. And, hey, it is one of my favorite parts of the book! I didn't plan that. Actually, when writing a book you have little sense, if any, of what page anything might end up on, because of unknown fonts and layouts to be chosen by the publisher, and because continuous editing until the book is finally printed. Still, I'm happy to say, out of coincidence or hypnotic deference to Mr. Ford, The Poe Shadow's paperback 99 lands in my "epitome" scene. What do I mean?

For each of my novels so far, there has been a scene that sneaks into my head early on in the writing process (or even in the outlining stage) that epitomizes the novel as a whole for me and helps me nail down the tone, style, and plot that I want. That was chapter nine for this (wow, page ninety-nine comes in chapter nine — how about that numerology!). The Poe Shadow takes place between 1849 and 1851 and focuses on a fan of Edgar Allan Poe named Quentin Clark who wants to recruit the "real" model for Poe's detective hero, C. Auguste Dupin, to investigate Poe's death. What made me want to tell this story was the idea that there would be two characters who claimed to be that real Dupin. Page ninety-nine occurs during the introduction of the second "Dupin," the contender for the title named Baron Claude Dupin.

"I can tell, Monsieur Quentin, you have got yourself in an awkward position," Dupin said. He pressed his hands together as though in prayer, then let them curl into a double fist. "But I am the real Dupin — I am the one you have sought all along."

The Baron's announcement "I am the one" helps me bring out themes of the complex and sometimes messy relationship between literature and reality (is there a real Dupin? Must there be one? Can there be two?), and also the question of who controls a literary property once an author dies, something that's always interested me. And he was a fun character to write, probably the most fun I've had so far as a writer.
Read an excerpt from The Poe Shadow and learn more about the book at Pearl's website.

Check out the MySpace page for Quentin Clark, the protagonist of The Poe Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue