I’m one of those people who only ‘know’ Edgar Allan Poe by a sort of cultural osmosis, so I can’t give you an expert’s perspective on Candy Korman’s third monster story, POED. I can’t even give you a horror fan’s view of the story because I don’t like horror. But I can tell you that POED is a dark story indeed. In fact it is easily the darkest of Candy’s three monsters to date.
POED is not a retelling of any of Poe’s stories, however it does contain many references to them. Those familiar with Poe’s work will recognize The Usher Institute for the Study of Criminal Psychopathology, the setting of the story, as a nod to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.
The story of POED is told in the first person by the unnamed Director of the Institute, another nod to Poe’s style. For most of the story the Director appears to be speaking to a character named Edgar Allan who, we are told, is a journalist. As the story unfolds we learn that the Usher is not only a research institute, it is also the repository for a number of criminally insane inmates whose family connections guarantee they receive the very best of care, far from the eyes of both the public and the law.
The reason the Director is now revealing this information to a journalist is that he is in fear of his life. He has reason to believe that one of the three most powerful families with relatives in the Usher is moving to have him ‘disappeared’ out of fear that he may reveal their secrets and those of their murderous relatives.
Although the story is set in the modern day, the Director speaks in a mannered, almost prissy fashion that is reminiscent of earlier times. Yet despite this apparent affectation, his claims sound quite rational. At first. However as he reveals the horrific stories of these three inmates, his paranoia seems to deepen until the moment when he catches the journalist going through his files and accuses him of being in league with his enemies.
So, is the Director right? Is the journalist a spy sent to trap him? Or is this a dream within a dream? Yet if it is a dream then what is the reality?
I re-read the ending three times and I’m still not sure. But the ending is chilling no matter which way you interpret it because it is either a glimpse into insanity or… something else. To find out what that something else may be you will have to read the story for yourself, however I will say this, it will keep you thinking about the Usher Institute for a very long time.
Every time I review a novel, one of the things I ask myself is ‘did I enjoy it?’ Most of the time that question is easy to answer, but POED is such a departure from what I usually read that, like the ending, I’m still a little baffled. I can’t say I liked the character of the Director, and yet I was fascinated by him. In the same way, the story of POED gave me the creeps, and yet I could not put it down.
On a more objective level, I have to applaud the way in which Candy Korman has written this story. It is hellishly clever and I suspect that if Poe were still alive today, he would approve of POED.
If you are interested in learning something of the background to POED then I highly recommend this interview Candy did with Bookcast.
And if you’re in the middle of reading POED right now, then I wish you… pleasant dreams.