It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE Edward Gorey fan, and I have already reviewed two books written by Gorey (The Gashlycrumb Tinies and Amphigorey) and one book written by somebody else but illustrated by Gorey (The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved). This time around, I decided to read a book ABOUT Edward Gorey, (REREAD, I should say,) so get ready for a very strange case indeed…
Alexander Theroux – The Strange Case of Edward Gorey (2000/2002)
The Strange Case of Edward Gorey is a very cool little pseudo-biography published by Fantagraphics Books, who have put out a TON of interesting comics over the years, like Love and Rockets, Eightball, Hate, Acme Novelty Library, Usagi Yojimbo, Evil Eye, and so on. They’ve also published The Comics Journal for decades. And despite the fact that Edward Gorey DIDN’T really make comics, (nobody can quite label WHAT exactly Gorey was doing), they also published this book about Gorey by Alexander Theroux, (who is himself a well-known novelist and poet…)
So what does Mr. Theroux have to say about Edward Gorey? Quite a lot, actually. Theroux was a personal friend of Gorey’s, who met him in ’72 and interviewed the reclusive artist a year later for Esquire magazine. For the next couple of decades, Theroux kept an on-going acquaintance with Gorey that allowed him to see some of the inner workings of the man, and this book comes across as part biography, part gossip column, and part loving, personal remembrance.
You learn a bit about Gorey’s upbringing, about his schooling and military career (which was short), his college years, and his time in New York, before he eventually bought a house in Cape Cod and escaped the hustle and bustle. You learn that Gorey loved Oreo cookies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You learn who he disliked and why, and you get a fantastic glimpse of Gorey’s eccentric home-life, which he shared with a number of cats and a massive collection of junk, kitsch, and weird objects that he collected, and he also possessed a massive library of books. You learn about Gorey’s personality, his somewhat spikey attitude to most of humanity, and the creative process he used to make his strange, eerie, little books, (which were mostly full of murder.)
Theroux also includes a great many images in this book, often used to illustrate a point he’s trying to make about Gorey’s work. He shows Gorey’s obsession with intricate wallpaper designs, his oddly posed characters whose postures echo Gorey’s decades long love of the New York Ballet, and Theroux points out many of the recurring themes in Gorey’s work, (like murder, and mystery, and weird names…and MURDER!)
I should point out a few things that some people might NOT enjoy about this book: one is Theroux’s written voice, which I find amusing, but some people might not care for. Theroux uses a LOT of 50 cent words and some byzantine sentence structure, which is perfectly in keeping with the tone of the subject he’s writing about, but I’m sure it might annoy some folks to have to stop and look up a word every other sentence. Next, the book bounces around a bit. It’s not really in any kind of chronological order, but instead drifts from subject to subject, talking a bit about Gorey’s books, then a little about his childhood, then here are a few things he hated, and here are some horror movies he loved, and this is what his house looked like, and he hated exercise, but loved making puppets… As I mentioned above, the book often reads more like a person just chatting (in verbose and sometimes archaic language) about a dear friend than a standard biography, but because I LOVE Gorey’s work, and I’m interested in Gorey as a person, I’m not bothered by the format of the book. However, if you’re looking for a straightforward, chronological biography—that’s not what this book is and it’s not what this is MEANT to be.
Overall, I love this book. It’s very short, fewer than 70 pages, but packs a lot of great, gossipy information into such a short package. There are lots of images to admire, some fascinating biographical bits to chew on, and it can be entertaining to see what such an eccentric artist loved and hated, and apparently Gorey wasn’t shy about giving his opinions (about nearly anything BUT his own art, which he preferred not to talk about!) There is a BIT of literary and artistic analysis in here as well, but as I said, the book is less of a scholarly article and much more a personal reminiscence by a long-time friend of a great, but reclusive, artist who people STILL haven’t come to appreciate as much as he deserves to be appreciated. So, there you go. If you already like Edward Gorey and want to learn a bit more about him, OR if you don’t know his work at all, but are fascinated by eccentric characters who produce bizarre, difficult to categorize work—either way, this book is worth looking for!!! (And I’m DEFIANTLY ending that last sentence with a preposition!)
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
Have you read the New Yorker review of the new Gorey biography?
I haven’t read it, yet, but I will look for it! Thanks!