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I, Sarah Steinway
Mary Carter, author
Seventy-five-year-old Sarah Steinway - - as in piano - - survives a catastrophic rise in sea levels and subsequent flooding of the entire San Francisco Bay Area during The Emperor Floods. She survives by retreating to her treehouse, high in the branches of a California Live Oak on the edge of the San Pablo Bay seasonal wetlands. She makes a life in her treehouse, alone, for almost five years, battling intruders and illness and hunger and boredom. She is strong, resourceful, and forcefully opinionated. She turns to Torah, somewhat sheepishly, as a secular Jew, and raises her fist to God with the eternal question: “Why me?” She records life in her treehouse on her Underwood typewriter. Passing visitors: a cat, a dog and two learned rabbis wash up at her the treehouse. Later another unexpected guest arrives at her treehouse and her life takes an unexpected turn. She lives, on and on and on, embodying the notion that she is, and will remain forever, a stranger in this strange land.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: Carter's captivating, vividly imagined tale unfolds with terrifying beauty as protagonist Sarah Steinway grapples with survival in a future climate change disaster. The story relies on Steinway's tenacity and wit to navigate her new life in a drowned world, drawing the reader into the life of a mind so alive and singular that at times the work feels like memoir.

Prose: Carter is a true craftswoman, nimble and inventive and unafraid to take risks. Though dialogue can at times feel less than real, the narrative, told from Steinway's perspective, offers such breadth of mood--playful humor to dreadful illness, determination to aching nostalgia--that its emotional truths resonate deeply.

Originality: Carter's novel is an utterly original imagining of a post-apocalyptic world, lightly using the tropes of dystopian and disaster fiction while depending on ingenuity and emotional depth to carry the story. Savvy cultural references bring an immediacy and freshness to the text.

Character Development: Sarah Steinway is the most capable of protagonists--an elderly woman living in isolation, yet able to carry the full weight of this lucid and eloquent tale on her shoulders. The questions asked by the text--what could you endure, and how might you thrive, at the end of the world--are capably answered by her character, in a way that leaves the reader with a sense of hope.

 

Date Submitted: August 07, 2017

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