Just started reading Joyce Carol Oates’s book – The Falls. At the beginning of the book she quotes a Dr Moses Blaine (A Niagara Falls Physician’s Log 1879-1905). I just had to mention it here because it is one of the creepiest, most hair-raising things I’ve ever read. Perhaps this effect is contextual because I have been to see The Falls several times.

The newlywed protagonist’s husband has just committed suicide as this novel opens, sacrificing his life to the Niagara while they were on their honeymoon…I too had my honeymoon at Niagara Falls, a fact which has no relevance other than getting me more involved with the story. Upon visiting Niagara Falls who doesn’t stand mesmerized, hypnotized by its sheer magnificence?

“The Falls at Niagara, comprising the American, the Bridal Veil and the enormous Horseshoe falls, exert upon a proportion of the human population, perhaps as many as forty percent (of adults), an uncanny effect called hydracropsychic. This morbid condition has been known to render even the will of the active, robust man in the prime of life temporarily invalid, as if under the spell of a malevolent hypnotist. Such a one, drawn to the turbulent rapids above The Falls, may stand for long minutes staring as if paralyzed. Speak to him in the most forcible tone, he will not hear you. Touch him, or attempt to restrain him, he may throw off your hand angrily. The eyes of the enthralled victim are fixed and dilated. There may be a mysterious biological attraction to the thunderous force of nature represented by The Falls, romantically misinterpreted as “magnificent” – “grand” – “Godly” – and so the unfortunate victim throws himself to his doom if he is not prevented.

We may speculate: Under the spell of The Falls the hapless individual both ceases to exist and yet wills to become immortal. A new birth, not unlike the Christian promise of the Resurrection of the Body, may be the cruelest hope. Silently the victim vows to The Falls – “Yes, you have killed thousands of men and women but you can’t kill me. Because I am me.”

I read that again and got goose pimples!

Anyway, the spine-chilling effect aside, how are good authors able to find the perfect epigraph for their novels? Who has even heard of Dr Moses Blaine? Yet Joyce Carol Oates was able to find the piece above and use it so effectively to position her novel. Is this extensive research or is it serendipity? Did she find the epigraph first, to serve as a trigger for a novel that she then wrote? I wonder. But this epigraph was the perfect hook for me. I now am immersed in a book I can’t put down.


  1. The finding and positioning of the perfect epigraph is perhaps serendipity to some extent, but it owes itself a great deal to scholarship and excellent recall.Wonderful piece, this!

  2. good questions!Joyce Carol Oates has been writing for so many years; and of course many writers will keep notes and journals of things that interest them. At times, it might even be a question whether the novel or the epigraph comes first! — at any rate, what draws the writer to collect the one, also draws her to write the other.Of course it hardly need be said the doctor's fulsome hocus-pocus description is more archetypal gothic romanticism than objective psycho-physiological analysis. 😉 "Take one tablet of Poe and one of Schmo and call me in the morning (if you remain extant)." But the qualities of the epigraph rather remind of JCO's qualities: rather hypnotic. I attended a luncheon with her in San Francisco in the early 1980s. I was just about the only guy present: it was essentially a luncheon for nonworking matrons, seemed.

  3. I remember getting mesmerised when I visited the Niagara, and I think nature in its magnificence usually does that. Now I am curious to know more about this book because – once you remove all the touristy things around the falls – the place actually screams for a story to be told or a poem to be written.

  4. I experienced an orgasm reading that, and it is just the epigraph. I suppose the book is even better, yes? I'll have to buy it then, to see for myself.[ ugh, lost my password again. ]

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