A Column of Ash does a fantastic job of taking the reader to a place of tension, and uncertainty. This feeling of unease is shared by the story’s narrator, Jeremy, a young man who is preparing to leave for college, much to the dismay of his mother, an emotionally unstable woman who unjustly guilt trips her son throughout the story. Brief glimpses into the past give some explanation as to why mother and son share such a strained relationship, though some interpretation is left up to the reader.
Loneliness and hopelessness are two other emotional responses elicited from the reader. In the opening sentences of the story, the contradiction between the exuberant noises emitting the television and the solemn moods of Jeremy and his mother serves to enforce the overall lonely feelings both Jeremy and his mother are experiencing. While the reader is initially led to believe that the arrival of Jeremy’s older brother, Jim, will bring some relief to the situation, it quickly becomes apparent that the opposite is true. Jim’s presence only makes matters worse, resulting in a culmination of the mother’s irrational behavior.
The story does not end on a happy note, as it is implied that the cycle of abuse will continue even after Jeremy leaves home, and that his brother Jim, will, as usual, offer him little to no solace. The absence of his father, whose presence is unknown throughout the story, suggests that Jeremy will be primarily responsible for his mother’s emotional well-being for the foreseeable future. Many people should be able to relate in some way to one or more of the characters in the story, as well as with the overall sense of hopeless isolation it constructs. Those who have strained relationships with their siblings, or lack strong parental figures should be able to relate particularly well.
(review of free book)