The Ring

Writing instructor’s new novel focuses on post-earthquake Victoria

Wed, 2011-04-06 12:40


The Big One has hit the West Coast and the earthquake damage to Victoria is far worse than anyone expected: the city has been devastated, families torn apart and the survivors left wandering through a dystopic hell on Earth. Such is the setting for Into That Darkness (Thomas Allen & Son), the first novel by award-winning UVic writing instructor Steven Price.

Coming on the heels of the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, not to mention the Great British Columbia ShakeOut disaster drill, Price’s Into That Darkness is very much a story for our age of anxiety—one that reflects back to us our deepest fears and strongest hopes in the face of impossible odds.

But the novel’s roots actually stretch back to another moment of urban horror, the September 11 attacks in New York City. “I was in grad school in Virginia when 9/11 struck, and the sudden proximity of the disaster and the shift from a peaceable society to a society under siege left its impact,” says Price, who then began considering what kind of devastation could be visited on his home in Victoria.

Price’s debut volume of poetry—2006’s Anatomy of Keys, a book-length poem about Harry Houdini—earned him a Gerald Lampert Award, a spot on the BC Book Prizes shortlist and a nod as one of the Globe and Mail’s top-100 books of 2006, but it was the disasters of the early 21st century that fuelled the creation of Into That Darkness. “From the tsunami in Southeast Asia, to the earthquakes in Turkey, China, Haiti and New Zealand, to the eruptions in Iceland and the horror of Hurricane Katrina—it was all echoing in the background while I was writing this book.”

But like in many novels hinging on disasters (Nevil Shute’s On The Beach, say, or Stephen King’s The Stand), the fictional set-up, Price feels, simply allows him the freedom to explore his characters. “This novel, though about many things, holds as one of its central concerns the problem of natural evil—why bad things happen to good people—so the earthquake is really just one of the characters.”

Given that Into That Darkness was completed well before last month’s earthquake, how does he feel about releasing it the same month as the recent devastation in Japan? “People over there are suffering so terribly; I couldn't possibly draw any links between my novel and that tragedy. But I think the natural inclination, living in an earthquake zone as we do here on the coast, is to wonder just what would happen if such a disaster struck us here—which is, to an extent, what the novel asks.”

With that in mind, does the author have an earthquake kit ready? “Yes, although a poor one. I'm as guilty as anyone of understanding what it means to live in an earthquake zone without really comprehending it.”

And while Price has never lived through a major disaster himself, he does have childhood memories of staring at downtown Victoria through the window of his home overlooking Esquimalt Lagoon. “My father liked to say, ‘You know, son, when The Big One hits, all of this will slide down into the sea.’ I'd look out at the water and try to imagine the city like that. It left an impression.”