The maelstrom plays an important role in Finding Poe, serving multiple purposes:
The parallel between its narrator and Karina strengthens the notion that she is an unreliable narrator. We don’t know who either really is. Is Poe’s narrator actually a fisherman who lost two brothers during a fishing trip? (Or is it more likely that either he’s covering up a murder—or just simply insane?) Is Karina a “Lady of Norland” as she claims, or is she also something far more chilling?
The story within a story hints as something much deeper than merely an unreliable narrator. Karina’s recurring nightmare—and sometimes seemingly hallucinogenic shift into an alternate reality—of the maelstrom, suggests that her perceptions might not be sound enough for the reader to trust. Even when she believes she is being sincere, her own senses betray her. She is not living in the world she thinks she’s living in. One might even go so far as to question whether anything she experiences—or claims to experience—is real.
Karina’s recurring experience parallels the cyclical nature of the maelstrom. Just as Poe’s narrator perceives an awesome greatness in the vortex, one that, in its cyclical nature, might represent the cyclical nature of life and death, Karina’s repeated experience—the cyclical nature of the story itself—offers a marriage of form and content that hints at information lying far below the text’s surface. Is Karina even alive? If not, what is her real story? Is she reliving her own death—or does her personal descent into the maelstrom represent something even more profound?
I invite those of you who have read Finding Poe to offer your own insights on this—but just don’t spoil Karina’s true identity if you’ve already figured it out. Piecing together the puzzle within the story is half the fun, you know. Her place, what she really means to Poe and his work, is what the story is really all about….
I turned back to the window, and it took a moment for me to process the strange sight. An enormous black bird kicked and flapped its wings against the glass, somehow keeping in perfect time with the moving train.
“I think it’s trying to get in, but it can’t … can it?” the woman asked, shying back in her seat.
I watched, silent. The bird’s wild, angry moves were hypnotic. I thought about my nightmare, about the impending doom promised to me, and I wondered if perhaps Death himself had been commissioned to track me down. No earthly bird would behave such a way, and I knew, given all I had recently seen, that was a personal omen if nothing else.
The woman frantically waved at the window, yelling for the bird to go away, but I watched silently, feeling quite assured that the bird was merely the harbinger of doom and not the actual purveyor of it. The woman’s shrieks—not to mention the reactions of other nearby passengers—began to come across as comical overreactions to a threat that existed in their thoughts alone. The bird continued to harass the window, but clearly it had no way in. I sat back and watched the different reactions, wondering how many people the bird would alarm before it finally ducked away to carry its grim message to the next sorry soul on its list.
“Someone needs to scare it away,” the old woman beside me finally suggested.
“It’s attracted to something inside here,” said someone else nearby.
“Or someone,” said the old woman.
“What would a crow want with any of us?” I asked, my voice trembling despite me.
“That there is a raven,” said the old woman.
“Whatever it is, what would it want with any of us?” I asked.
“Or we would ask, more specifically, what would it want with you?” the old woman asked. I realized that everyone in the car was staring at me. The raven continued to bat wildly against the glass. I tried to remain calm, but everyone began to move in toward me, giving me little room to shift. I felt a burst of nervous energy as the other passengers crowded all around me and suddenly I had no room to move at all.
Desperate for fresh air, the hot crowd leaving everything around me warm and stale, I attempted to push my way through. I could not see the door leading out, but I knew it was near. Each person I passed seemed to do his or her best to slow me down, grabbing at my clothes and blocking me with their bodies. After much grappling and groping, I finally made it to the door, only to find it locked.
The ride became unsteady, as if the train were suddenly traveling over heaps of rocks, then everyone screamed as we began to tilt to the left. I grabbed the nearest seat, doing my best to brace for the worst, when water broke through one of the windows. I watched a group of passengers fight the locked door while others attempted to flee through broken windows.
“Maelström!” one person cried.
Out here? I tried to make sense of it, realizing that it made no sense at all. I thought about a story I had read some time ago about a man who had thought he had awakened from a nightmare, only to realize that he was still dreaming. There was no other explanation in my mind that fit what I now witnessed, and I closed my eyes and allowed the water to rise over me, knowing very well that the dream would not be able to last much longer. I held my breath and shut my eyes as the current snatched my body and flung it into the sea. I felt my body float deep into the abyss below, bubbles rushing past me as they escaped the folds of my dress, my long curls tangling across my face.
The pressure against my lungs became great and the urge to exhale overcame me, but I couldn’t even see the surface from where I was and I had nowhere to take a breath. Unable to hold the air any longer, I expelled it, which provided a fleeting moment of relief. Immediately following that, however, there came the sudden and overwhelming urge to take in another breath, one I could not ignore. Left with no other choice, I took a thick, lung-flooding breath of water. To my surprise, I felt no pain, nor the reflex to cough; I merely had the urge to exhale again. A rush of water left my lungs, and then again, I took a breath.
I felt a warm, peaceful feeling take over me, relaxing my limbs and easing my fearful thoughts. My eyes closed and the sea went silent, and it occurred to me that I had drowned.
What a shame, I thought. Had I only known life was so short….
Finding Poe is available in paperback and Kindle.