Ann Pancake’s story is not a simple environmentalist cautionary tale. Avery, the protagonist, experiences a sense of satisfaction on seeing the destruction of the natural world. The reasons for his pleasure are complicated. The signs of destruction confirm his apocalyptic suspicions, but they also satisfy his desire to “get it all over with” and arrive at a place where “we won’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next.” In an earlier section of the story, we learn that Avery’s mother tells the story of the Buffalo Creek disaster with great frequency. She wants to “put shape and control and a kind of finality on a thing that was obscenely shapeless and uncontrollable and forever unfinished.” Avery’s fantasies provide the same sense of order.

Clearly, Pancake’s story is not intended to scare us into environmentally safe practices. Instead, Pancake takes the current environmental crisis as a stepping-off point, a frightening perspective from which we can ask, How do we attempt to shape, control, and reach a sense of finality over our lives when we are constantly faced with the inevitability of our deaths? How do we live, Pancake asks, when we are, in effect, dying in slow motion?

—Matt Wagstaffe