For most people, the echoes of childhood last a lifetime, especially when tinged with a subterfuge of dark influence. For myself and many others, master illustrator and author Edward Gorey provided a much-needed glimpse into the region of the imagination where we dared not venture alone. The famed author of such infamous titles as The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Hapless Child, and The Curious Sofa, he filled his little books with themes of Edwardian death, ennui, and gothic despair, all illustrated with the frenetic cross-hatching of a man possessed. Although not famous for being prolific, Gorey, a known procrastinator, was the author and illustrator of more than one hundred books in his lifetime and continued to work until his death in 2000.
Gorey, whose life has been the subject of endless speculation, rarely granted interviews ("on pain of death"), and when he did was often cryptic and insular with his replies. Ascending Peculiarity, a compendium of the rare interviews he did grant, is, despite the inherent difficulty of the subject, a gratifying look at a truly odd literary figure.
Compiled by Karen Wilken, co-author of The World of Edward Gorey, and well-established Goreyphile (she is the curator of the museum dedicated to him in his former residence on Cape Cod), Wilken provides material to the point of saturation. This would actually be tedious were it not for the rarity of the interviews, which range from the early seventies to the present, and come from periodicals ranging from the New Yorker to Cat Fancy. Amidst the many interviews, Gorey, perhaps subconsciously, dispels many of the myths surrounding him while playfully instilling others. Both his language and mannerisms are described at length, which, along with his cluttered environs provide us with the portrait of an individual who, despite obvious agoraphobia, created his own niche in life and in the often-perilous world of publishing.
Ascending Peculiarity is, all in all, a fascinating, rare glimpse at a man whose stubborn oddity and eccentric propensities predate the major modern counterculture movements employing strange irony as hipness. Although its obsessive inclusion of trifling details becomes at times repetitious, this peer at the peerless, at the very least, merits borrowing from a friend or library. LANCE CHESS