This novella is classic Harrison, through and through. Pitch perfect, nuanced, with a rolling pace that fits the story perfectly. Clare, the woman lit by fireflies, decides to escape from her life, quite literally, when she and her husband stop at a rest area in Iowa on their way home to suburban Detroit after visiting their daughter. She sneaks away, climbs a fence, and hides in a cornfield, spending the night sleeping in a thicket. It’s almost a small scale survival story. She has an imaginary dialogue with her daughter who teaches her outdoors survival skills. While nothing that she goes through is very horrible, or dangerous, or even that uncomfortable, it seems grueling nonetheless. As she spends the night in her nest, she returns to her memories, and everything that has led her to this point. The memories are not linear, or very narrative, but are episodic, and random, and filled with sensory information more than anything else. Harrison’s skills at showing and not telling are on full display in this story.
While this isn’t my favourite Harrison novella, I am very glad that I returned to it. I really can’t say why this novella was a DNF title. All I can do is speculate that, at the time that I was reading it, it was too unsettling for me. There is something very claustrophobic about the story. Clare mentions her own claustrophobia several times as an actual phobia, but her marriage and life with her husband, Donald, and her childhood and her relationships with her parents, are also very claustrophobic in a metaphorical sense. Also, her decision to simply run away and disappear is a pretty powerful, and unsettling, idea. Maybe it was an idea that hit too close to home for me at the time. I honestly don’t remember. But I can sort of see how, if you weren’t mentally prepared for this story, you might just put it aside. The important thing is to pick it up later, because it is a really beautiful novella.
PS: I also love the painting on the cover.