Short Stories 366:188 — “What is a Volcano?” by Lesley Nneka Arimah

coverOh, holy flying heck this was wonderful. Found in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, and told as a kind of parable or folk tale, “What is a Volcano?” has a narrative that begins with the god of ants and the goddess of rivers having a disagreement that escalates, but while the goddess of rivers sees it as a kind of one-upmanship, or perhaps a minor rivalry more amusing than truly vehement, the god of ants is quickly furious at how no one seems willing to care about his feelings, and as such, launches a centuries long bitter hatred that cumulates in a horrific (if somewhat accidental) act.

“What is a Volcano?” builds slowly, rising on moment after moment of loss and pain and fury, and there’s also this ongoing emotional story of how loss and anger entwine so completely, and can consume everything when there’s no opportunity for closure or resolution. More, the idea that all this damage is done from such a small, pathetic source (for the god of ants is very much a pathetic, self-interested creature) underscores a few more truths about who so often deals violence, and how little they care about collateral damage.

There are so many layers in this story I can’t possibly do it justice, but I can—I hope—make it clear that if you’ve not picked up What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky yet, that you should. Even more, if you’re at all an audiobook fan, I have nothing but praise for Adjoa Andoh, who performs the book to absolute perfection, and who, in this story, uses her skills of cadence and emotionality to draw you along so completely. I think I’ve said this a few times now, but this book is one of those books that keeps earning the dog a longer walk, because I just wanted to get to the end of the story now, rather than waiting for later.

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