Have you ever read a book that was so off-the-wall bizarre that you thought, I can’t read this anymore, it’s too ridiculous, but it was also so compelling that you had to keep reading just to see what happens? John Elizabeth Stintzi’s harrowing novel My Volcano is one of those books.
The story, if it can be called that, begins in 2016, when a volcano sprouts from New York’s Central Park reservoir. This is weird, but it’s not unheard of.
After all, a volcano really did pop up in a Mexican cornfield in 1943. But the volcano in My Volcano brings not fountains of ash but instead much stranger complications. For one thing, it appears to be Mount Fuji, even though researchers confirm that the original Mount Fuji is where it should be and hasn’t tunneled through the Earth to reappear in midtown Manhattan.
Against the backdrop of this volcano’s appearance, the novel’s narrative scope is tremendously broad: A girl in Russia wakes up in the body of a huge insect, but unlike with poor Gregor Samsa, nobody seems to notice this but her. A golem made of rocks from the Libyan desert wreaks destruction on entities that pollute and despoil the environment. A nomadic herder leading his flock through Mongolia transforms into a spiky plant, and everything he passes also turns into the same spiky plant until there are millions of them. A woman dreams that she inhabits the bodies of other people, including the boyfriend of the insect-girl. And five centuries ago, a boy possessed by an angry spirit fails to save the Mexican people from the Spanish conquistadors.
My Volcano is perhaps most likely to remind readers of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, in which everything becomes a mashup of everything else’s DNA. Why is all this happening? Each of the book’s sections begins with a description of a real human atrocity, from homicides and drug overdoses to shootings by police officers. Maybe the Earth has decided it’s not going to wait for climate change to put an end to human malfeasance. On the other hand, maybe it’s not so much about bringing about the end of humanity as encouraging us to clean up our act.
We are less than a dust mote in the universe, and no one will miss us when we’re gone, Stintzi’s deranged Mobius-strip of a book suggests. Should we still be saved? Can we?