Generally I prefer not to psychoanalyze an author based on his or her writing; it feels a bit uncharitable to me, building a golem version of authors out of the bits of their lives that slip into their work. I mean, whose first reaction, upon seeing a magnificent new skyscraper, is to make Freudian comments about the architect? It seems to me that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a story is just a story.
That said, upon reading Volcano by Nancy Lord, I couldn’t help but imagine I was peering through a window on the author’s own fears and frustrations. Living in the shadow of volcanoes as the author did, you couldn’t help but imagine what it might be like if one of them blew. When her narrator thinks “The sight was so foreign, so unnatural, and yet – it was strangely familiar, as though a lifetime of living with the possibility had prepared her,” you can almost hear the author herself saying these words.
But it isn’t just ash the narrator’s homestead is being buried in; she’s buried in responsibilities, the weight of managing the farm in her husband’s oilfield absences. It comes up again and again, “With all the days she’d spent working in the fields…” “The spring before…[s]he’d joined the neighbors, beating at the fire with shovels, until her hands were blistered and raw…When Dave’s two weeks were over, her hands were healed, and new grass had grown up to cover the burn.” “Twenty-seven years on the homestead. All those years of coping, taking charge of what needed to be done. Was this what she’d been waiting for?” One wonders whether any of this speaks to the author’s own experience. The landscape that’s been metaphorically engulfing her for decades now rises up to literally engulf her.
The narrator meets this new threat, something she can do nothing to combat, with the mien of a tragic heroine. And when the threat passes, and the sky clears, and her dramatic imaginings come to naught…she “smoulders,” as if she has now taken the volcanic activity that surrounded her, into her.
(All quotes are from the course textbook; all photos are my own.)