Patrick Blanchfield in n+1:
EDGAR ALLAN POE’S “THE PURLOINED LETTER” is a strange sort of mystery—a story of palace intrigue and cognitive blind spots. The gumshoe, C. Auguste Dupin, is presented with a case that has left the police befuddled. An unscrupulous Minister has stolen a compromising letter written by a certain noblewoman, which he intends to use as blackmail and as leverage against the ruling Queen. The Minister’s apartment is the only place the letter could be, but exhaustive searches have yielded nothing. Investigators have combed through books, probed furniture for hidden compartments, deployed literal microscopes, and still, nothing, though there is no doubt that the Minister is the thief. The comprehensiveness of the police’s efforts gives the canny Dupin the only clue he needs. Paying the blackmailer a visit, Dupin stages a distraction and plucks the letter from its hiding place, which isn’t really a hiding place at all, but rather a simple card-rack sitting blatantly on a mantelpiece. Concealed in plain sight, the purloined letter has gone unseen the whole time.
Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is a kind of “Purloined Letter” for the dark 21st century. A chronicle of the first eight months of the Donald Trump Administration, the book promises revelations that the author has suggested will bring down the presidency. Fire and Fury does contain plenty of palace intrigue and compromising stories, but its promised revelations are not really revelations at all. The fundamental scandal, the book’s centerpiece truth—that the President is breathtakingly unfit, and his administration is a slow-motion train wreck—has been obvious all along. The Trump catastrophe has not been hidden in plain sight. It has filled our entire national field of vision such that, for those who follow the news even irregularly, there is little else to see. From scandal to scandal, from outrage to outrage, in a steady stream of cringe-inducing video clips and erratic tweets, this President and his administration have shown us who they are time and again. Yet as the past year has shown, this onslaught of the obvious can actually impose its own kind of normality, a learned posture of dumbstruck exhaustion and enervated disgust.