Alexander Theroux,
The Strange Case of Edward Gorey
(Fantagraphics, 2000)

If a writer of fiction created a character like the late artist and writer Edward Gorey, no one would believe it. Putting aside for the moment his extraordinary and unique work, what author would ask his reader to believe in the reality of a man who managed to attend every performance of the New York City Ballet for years, yet who watched daytime soap operas religiously? Who created with pen and ink some of the most classic visions of un-merrie olde England ever assayed, but who had never set foot there? Among whose favorite filmmakers was the French silent serial thriller director Feuillade, and whose favorite artists were Balthus and Francis Bacon?

In his brief memoir that makes no effort to be an actual biography, Alexander Theroux paints a brilliant portrait of an equally brilliant eccentric, filled with quirky details and amusing anecdotes whose sum total is apt to leave the reader feeling exhausted at the creative energy and intellectual prowess of the subject, and just a bit ill at ease at having spent time in the company of one so strange and inexplicable.

A strain that runs throughout Theroux's memoir is that of Gorey as a basically disconnected individual. While his speech and behavior would lead many to assume that he was effeminately gay, he apparently never had any emotional adult relationships (though at times he hinted of one in the past). Though he had many acquaintances, he seems to have had no close friends and preferred the company of his cats to humans. In Theroux's company he had good words for few, as indicated by his outbursts against celebrities such as Meryl Streep:

"Oh please ... every time she opens her mouth, the critics insist Dostoevsky's speaking! ... And who's even dippier is Glenn Close. Sexless as a teabag. Neither man, not (sic) woman, nor in-between! Julia Roberts's face looks like it's made of rubber -- remember those Snap, Crackle and Pop cartoon faces? And of course Streisand. God help us, I won't even go to see."

If you enjoy this kind of dryly funny bitchiness, there's marvelous gobs of it here.

While Gorey's work is discussed, frequently at length, it's the man's persona that's on display, and Theroux does a splendid job of presenting it. His thick and luscious prose is seasoned nicely by two dozen representative Gorey drawings and several photos from old films in which Gorey delighted, but there's only one illustration of Gorey himself, and that on the cover. Goreyphiles will consider this slim volume a must-have, even if, at the end, they come to the uncomfortable conclusion that their iconic idol's life was a bit sad and just more than a little askew.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 22 March 2003

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