Aftershocks can go on for years

The inevitable happens …. Geryon meets Herakles again, with predictable consequences:

The effort it took to pull himself
away from Herakles’ eyes
could have been measured on the scale devised by Richter.

But things are not the same, for Herakles is with another man.

Volcanoes and earthquakes make repeated appearances in Carson’s work. They also feature in Autobiography of Red, where they symbolise some of the effects of a (troubled) love relationship. So when Ancash, Herakles’ new friend, notes that ‘aftershocks can go on for years’, Geryon laconically replies, ‘I know’, thinking not of tectonic movements but of the aftershocks of his relationship with Herakles, which are still troubling him many years on.

It is all too much for him. After a while, Geryon can’t cope with the company of the two friends any more. He ‘threw himself out the door’, we are told in typical ‘Carsonesque’ fashion, only to end up ‘in his hotel room on the end of the bed staring at the blank TV screen’.

It was seven a.m. Total agitation possessed him. He had held off phoning Herakles
for two days. Even now he was not
looking at the telephone (which he had placed in the bottom of his sock drawer).

when from deep in its cave of socks the telephone
rang. Geryon dove for it.

Some time later, Herakles, Geryon and Ancash visit a Peruvian volcano, which, in ancient times, used to be worshipped as a deity. People were thrown into it, Ancash explains, not for sacrifice but as a testing procedure:

They were looking for people
from the inside. Wise ones.

‘People from the inside’ – like Geryon, in other words, who not only is an inside person, an introvert, but has shown himself to be of considerable intellectual and emotional depth.

Then, in one of the book’s most poignant moments, Ancash explains to Geryon that some of those who had been thrown into the volcano return. They manage this due to their wings:

Wings? Yes that’s what they say the Yazcamac return as red people with wings,
all their weaknesses burned away –
and their mortality.

Like Geryon again, who is red and has wings, two features that have been troubling him all his life but are here shown to be something rather special. In a book that has layers upon layers, Carson plays with the ancient story upon which it is based and which features a red monster. But who is the monster in this story, deep, thoughtful Geryon, the wise inside person, or Herakles, who comes across as shallow and selfish, oblivious to the feelings of his two friends?

Geryon, we read, ‘thought about thoughts’.

Even when they were lovers
he had never known what Herakles was thinking.

What Geryon was thinking Herakles never asked. In the space between them
developed a dangerous cloud.

Or consider the following conversation, which illustrates so well how people can be together and yet not be together at all:

Geryon what’s wrong? Jesus I hate it when you cry. What is it?
Geryon thinks hard.
I once loved you, now I don’t know you at all. He does not say this.
I was thinking about time – he gropes –
you know how apart people are in time together and apart at the same time – stops.

All the while, Geryon keeps on struggling, as my last two examples, both couched in language that only Carson could manage, illustrate:

It is all wrong.
Wrongness came like a lone finger
chopping through the room and he ducked.

He slid off the bed quickly. Thorns all around him black and glistening
but he passed through unhurt …


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