When someone wanders so far from the flock, people, in their collective vanity, tend to blame the flock. Anyone who wanders off must have been actively pushed away—by family dysfunction, social disappointment, sexual rejection, whatever. Or maybe it was the wanderer’s fault, and, like one of Conrad’s characters, she lost her way because she failed to cultivate the appropriate intraspecies bonds; she forgot about love. Either way, the idea is that what happens to people is all about people; no other factors merit consideration. Try telling at therapist or other member of the helping professions that you are menaced by hazy sunlight or that the sumac trees growing likes weeds along railroad tracks fill you with dread, and he or she will want to hear accounts of childhood abuse. This is the conceit of psychiatry and unfortunately of so many novels, even some of the best and most riveting ones: that except for the occasional disease or disaster, the only forces shaping our lives are other humans, and that outside of our web of human interactions there is nothing worth looking into.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God