Review of “Heat Dome” by Kaitlyn Teer, published in Electric Lit

A gripping and haunting story about parenting, climate change, and community.

I was at first amused by the heat of this story. Right now, I can look out any window of my house, garage, barn, office building, grocery store, and see nothing but snow. True, it is warming up, but the sun here pales in comparison to the unrelenting heat pumped out of this story. What started off as amusement instantly turned to torture (not the story itself — which is great — just the heat. Oh my, the heat!).

The story is told in a collective “we” or first person plural, which is mightily attractive to a person who admires everything he can’t do himself. I appreciate this POV on so many levels not least for the inclusive burden of suffering each of these women is having to deal with — for some reason it makes it all the more brutal when the sun is slowly burning away any ounce of sanity held by any of these women. Even so, they’re trying: “slicing fruit,” “[wiping] the backs of our necks with dishtowels,” “[buying] popsicles.” All while trying to calm themselves and their families.

“Meteorologists call it a once-in-a-millennia heat wave.” This reminds me of when my hometown of Cedar Rapids had something like three “hundred-year floods” in a matter of twenty years. Did I mention I just watched the film “Don’t Look Up”? If people don’t listen to the science, then maybe a screaming scientist like Jack Dawson or Katniss Everdeen? Maybe Hollywood’s the answer, though I have my doubts.

The heat and its effects in “Heat Dome” are simply unrelenting. This story is a crash course in applying pressure to a character or characters until they break and something happens. The only reprieve arrives in beautiful descriptions of the landscape: “…the old two-lane highway down the coast…. curves along sandstone cliffs that slope to the shore.” Later, “we descend a trail through red cedar, fir, and madrona.” If nature isn’t your thing, the narrator offers a more communal answer to the suffering: “We are sweaty, but together.”

At least we’re sipping wine and dining together, they acknowledge at the end of “Don’t Look Up.” Never mind the comet. It might not even be real.

Or maybe I shouldn’t be so flippant about this communal suffering (at least we’re in it together!). The first person plural, after all, is a collection of mothers or mothers-to-be who find solace in these together-moments. The heat and misery of dealing with themselves and their families literally drives them to the ocean for a reprieve. They can’t handle it anymore. They have to leave. They lament that this is “their new normal.” And since there’s not much else to do, besides float in the ocean (and wait for the comet to hit Earth!), they decide to do so with a sense of togetherness. Of “[holding] hands to keep from drifting apart.” Because if we’re all going to hell, we may as well enter the flames together.

Check out the story here.

Kaitlyn Teer’s lyric essays have received prizes from Fourth Genre and Prairie Schooner. Her essay “Drawing A Breath” was a notable for the 2017 Best American Essays anthology and was anthologized in Beautiful Flesh: A Body of Essays (CSU Center for Literary Publishing, 2017). Other work has appeared in Entropy, Redivider, Sweet, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She is a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog and is at work on a flash collection about parenting and the climate crisis.

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