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.
Dery goes into far too much detail tracking the endless, clearly compulsive changes of residence the Gorey family undertook throughout [Gorey's] childhood ... Dery can be good on Gorey’s art... And he recognizes that the Anchor covers could be startling in their implications ... Mark Dery, alas, knows practically nothing about ballet and ballet history. Everything he tells us is clearly received wisdom at best. He is equally weak in other areas. He refers frequently to Gorey’s love for silent film (which he identifies as one of a “pantheon of canonically gay tastes”), but his knowledge of silent film is as thin as his knowledge of ballet ... Other mistakes of Dery’s are less factual and more the result of misunderstandings and a hyperbolic and dramatizing vision of cultural life... But then Dery is a self-proclaimed 'cultural critic,' and cultural critics tend to deal in zeitgeists, not art ... Dery isn’t an experienced biographer, so it’s understandable that he stumbles. But he is an experienced writer, and although parts of his Gorey book are persuasively written... the new book is so swamped in clichés that I kept being reminded of the famous pieces Frank Sullivan wrote for The New Yorker about a fictional Mr. Arbuthnot, 'the cliché expert.'
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.