One way to understand love is to think of it in terms of rescue. To love someone is to both be available to rescue them, and to allow yourself to be rescued by them. We can see this dynamic at work in the story; the daughter returns both to rescue...
One way to understand love is to think of it in terms of rescue. To love someone is to both be available to rescue them, and to allow yourself to be rescued by them. We can see this dynamic at work in the story; the daughter returns both to rescue and be rescued.
Her comment about returning is just this:
Since my father's recent death, there is no one to read to her, which is why I returned, in fact, from my failed life where the land is flat. I came home to read to my mother, to read out loud, read long into the dark if I must, to read all night.
We don’t know why she thinks her life “where the land is flat” has “failed.” But we do know that the story is about how she owes her life to her mother three times—the first time by saving herself at the circus, the second by meeting her father, and the third by rescuing her from the fire. Her mother is, quite simply, a hero. However unprepossessing her mother may seem now, the narrator knows that her mother has a kind of superpower, and will always protect her. By “superpower” I don’t just mean her skill as an acrobat—in many ways the real power she has is the will to act, to save herself, or the one she loves. Even now, sightless, her mother possesses a kind of preternatural grace, and is a source of stability and safety for her daughter. So in a way it is true that the daughter has probably returned to be saved once more by her mother, this time from her “failed life.”
On the other hand, there is her excuse for coming back, the “reading” part. Her mother was taught to read by her second husband, and her love of reading became a kind of symbol of their love. By returning to read to her mother, the narrator is performing a kind of rescue of her own. Her determination to “read all night long if I must” is equivalent to (if less spectacular than) her mother’s tearing off her clothes and climbing a tree to save her child—the daughter will go to any length to comfort her mother.
One can also think of the writing of the story as another kind of rescue—by writing the story, the narrator is articulating the bond she has with her mother. The final lines of the story—“Then I wrapped my hands around my mother's hands. I felt the brush of her lips and heard the beat of her heart in my ears, loud as thunder, long as the roll of drums” —tells of the hidden strength of her mother, and the sense of safety, even while falling, that her mother’s rescue provides.