Writers are supposed to have a hard time killing their darlings, but there are a few who apparently thrill to the task. In Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, the cultural critic Mark Dery explains how Gorey was always looking to pare things down ... faced with so much ordinariness, Dery does his best, which proves to be more than enough. Born to Be Posthumous is an entertaining account of an artist who liked to be coy with anybody who dared to write about him.
Enter Mark Dery, the writer and cultural critic, whose fascinating new biography of Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous, paints a near-exhaustive portrait of an author who 'was inscrutable because he didn't want to be scruted' ... But where Dery truly shines is in his analysis of Gorey's many books and other works of art. He takes deep dives into even the most minor and forgotten of Gorey's literature ... The best biographies are the result of a perfect match between author and subject, and it's relatively rare when the two align perfectly. But that's the case with Born to Be Posthumous — Dery shares Gorey's arch sense of humor, and shows real sympathy for his sui generis outlook and aesthetics. Dery's book is smart, exhaustive and an absolute joy to read.
His detailed descriptions of some 100 titles produced by Gorey capture in cleverly turned phrases his distinctive visual style and the brooding emotional atmosphere it creates ... Dery documents several infatuations with men, sufficient to make the point that Gorey would have had gay sex if he had any sex at all. But Dery’s tossed-off comment about The Curious Sofa as 'a shudder of amused revulsion at the ickiness of all sex' is more illuminating than his labored exegeses of various Gorey works as coded expressions of gay sensibility ... Dery is on firmer ground when he positions such early books as The Listing Attic within 'a groundswell of intellectual discontent with the conformity of ’50s America.' He’s also informative about Gorey’s participation in the transformation of postwar book publishing as house designer for the pioneering quality-paperback imprint Anchor Books and as an uneasy-making figure hovering on the outskirts of the revolution in children’s books ... Dery’s affectionate tribute to an artist who was 'incomparably, unimprovably himself' also shows Gorey evoking in his work feelings of alienation, longing, and dread that are perhaps more common than we like to admit.