One man’s fears are exposed as he faces death in its many disguises.
In 2011, as a massive tornado whirled outside, Hollars (English/Univ. of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us about Life, Death, and Being Human, 2015, etc.) and his wife were huddled in the bathtub under a pile of cushions. They had just learned days before that their first child had been conceived, which still had the couple reeling with emotions. Suddenly, the enormity of bringing a new life into the world overwhelmed the author as the potential destruction of their lives rampaged just next door. “As our house creaked and our neighborhood swayed, what suddenly seemed most unfathomable was our lives stripped of that future,” he writes. “We’d interpreted the plus sign as a promise, and we expected the universe to make good.” In these essays, Hollars provides an offbeat look at the fragility of human life and our resilience when faced with death and destruction. After examining the days and months after the tornado ripped through his town, the author delves into stories of children who have died by becoming trapped inside refrigerators; ponders the readiness of Fort Wayne, Indiana, during World War II if there had been a German attack on the town, since this is where multiple parts of the atomic bomb were manufactured; and links Hiroshima and Fukushima via stories of radiation. Throughout, Hollars underlines his fears for both himself and his family. His grave discussion emphasizes the helplessness we feel when faced with forces of nature beyond human control and the fear we experience when confronted with humans who cause mass destruction.
The thread that binds these essays on death and mayhem is the author’s love for his children and wife, which offers readers a respite from the inherent grief and devastation he poetically describes.