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the stress of her regard

As I read Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard (1989), I started to think that in order to understand the novel I needed to have read more vampire novels. Since I can only recall reading two books from that genre—one by Bram Stoker and one by Octavia Butler—and neither of them are Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer, my response to this novel can claim only to be ignorant and uninformed.

That said, my overall response to the book is mostly boredom. Yes, Powers writes well. Yes, he does his research, setting his protagonist, Michael Crawford, in an early 19th century populated by Byron, Shelly (both Percy and Mary), Keats, and other real figures who are more or less associated with the origins of gothic traditions that gave rise to Frankenstein and the Count. Powers also peppers the text with literary references and allusions, skillfully combining the real history, the literature, and his imagination.

However, early in the novel, Powers repeatedly and obviously keeps back information that would help the reader understand events, a device for creating tension that I always find artificial and frustrating. In addition, the plot, such as it is, wanders, including big unexplained gaps in the chronology that seem more designed to fit the historical record than dictated by narrative logic. Finally, I never liked any of the characters, nor cared very much what happened to them.

Good writing is good writing, but it is only as compelling as its story. In The Stress of Her Regard, Powers seems more concerned with using his considerable prose craft and erudition to show off his knowledge instead of serving the story he could be telling.

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