“Ring Of Fire” ($19.95 in paperback from Plain View Press) begins with a bang--the eruption of Mt. St. Helens--and carries the reader into the life of a family that is set to explode as well. Chicoan George Keithley, renowned for his poetry, brings a sharp sensitivity to the human condition in the story of Dr. Robert Pell, a volcano expert.
Pell is working with Dick Darwin of the National Emergency Planning Agency, whom Darwin wants to become the voice of authority in case other volcanoes threaten to blow. Too many lives gone at Mt. St. Helens caused by haphazard responses from state and local agencies. Dick is out to change that.
Pell is headquartered near Lassen Peak and Darwin is immediately smitten with his daughter, Linda, who, like Dick, is in her twenties. Eventually they live together for a while in the Bay Area, but there’s a parting amidst confusion about the nature of love.
Dr. Pell’s wife, Annette, is addicted to cocaine and her dealer, A.J., a courteous young man, takes a liking to Linda. For reasons revealed in the novel, Dr. Pell cannot abide A.J. “But while Doctor Pell had traveled the Pacific Rim,” Dick says at one point, “lecturing on its volcanic hazards, his wife had remained at home where she understood, if anyone did, that the family too is a ring of fire.”
That includes Pell’s brother, Father Ted, a misplaced Catholic Priest taken with the writings of an old pioneer who sanctioned the killing of Ishi’s people and then spent a lifetime repenting. “The fire that burns us with our guilt is the fire of love, isn’t it?” Father Ted tells his congregation. “Only if we care for each other can we know our guilt, feel shame, and hope to be forgiven.”
The tragedies that bring the story to an end offer hope, but muted. Keithley has written a deeply insightful account of painful love that will not soon be forgotten.