I finally had a spare half hour to dip into John Elizabeth Stintzi’s novel My Volcano this afternoon. After hearing about the novel from the good folks at weirdo indie stalwart Two Dollar Radio, I thought—well, look, here’s the publisher’s blurb:
My Volcano is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a menagerie of characters, as they each undergo personal eruptions, while the Earth itself is constantly shifting. It takes place during the turbulent summer of 2016, which saw the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and a spate of horrific hate-crimes across the country. This grounding in reality, contrasted with the sensational action that occurs in the narrative, floats the idea — which appears as the epigraph to the book, and also as a line within — that “reality is nothing but the opinion of power.” Parable, myth, science-fiction, eco-horror, My Volcano is a radical work of literary art, emerging as a subversive, intoxicating artistic statement.
–and the blurb at the TDR website is more detailed—
On June 2, 2016, a protrusion of rock growing from the Central Park Reservoir is spotted by a jogger. Three weeks later, when it finally stops growing, it’s nearly two-and-a-half miles tall, and has been determined to be an active volcano.
As the volcano grows and then looms over New York, an eight-year-old boy in Mexico City finds himself transported 500 years into the past, where he witnesses the fall of the Aztec Empire; a Nigerian scholar in Tokyo studies a folktale about a woman of fire who descends a mountain and destroys an entire village; a white trans writer in Jersey City struggles to write a sci-fi novel about a thriving civilization on an impossible planet; a nurse tends to Syrian refugees in Greece while grappling with the trauma of living through the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan; a nomadic farmer in Mongolia is stung by a bee, magically transforming him into a green, thorned, flowering creature that aspires to connect every living thing into its consciousness.
With its riveting and audacious vision, My Volcano is a tapestry on fire, a distorted and cinematic new work from the fiercely talented John Elizabeth Stintzi.
—anyway, I expected a kind of weirdness of prose, something “experimental” — but Stintzi’s prose is tight, lucid, and crisp. They employ filmic techniques, including interstitial chapters announcing the myriad horrific deaths recorded in 2016, including Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Flicking through the novel to graze these placards reminded me of the cruelty of the 2016, but also underlined that that cruelty was not especially special, besides, maybe, the fact that more folk could not deny systematic institutional violence in the grand ole USA. (Accept that they did. A lot of folk signed up for denying that shit.)
—well anyway, the intriguing thing, so far, is Stintzi’s spare evocations of extraordinary moments. There’s something both banal and beautiful in a sentence like, “The bumblebee in central Mongolia was eaten by a whitethroated needletail on JUNE 5.” Or hardly banal, but still frank and clear: “It didn’t take more than seeing strangely dressed Angel ingest a cloud for the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan to believe that he was holy.”
There’s also a heavy sadness under what I read, although maybe I brought that myself.