Monday, September 9, 2019

LAST ONES LEFT ALIVE :: Sarah Davis-Goff

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Sarah Davis-Goff's view of dystopian Ireland is vividly displayed through fierce adolescent protagonist Orpen. As Last Ones Left Alive begins, Orpen is boldly pushing toward potential salvation. She's alone save for her dog and her birth mother's partner, Maeve, bound and ambiguously lifeless in a wheelbarrow.

The narrative compellingly alternates between Orpen's perilous quest and what necessitated it. Portentous flashbacks paint solitary yet idyllic beginnings on an abandoned island with her mothers Mam and Maeve, where the state of the world was a mystery and death seemed far away. The existence of the zombie-like skrake, "real enough to kill you dead," is also tantalizingly revealed.

Orpen's childhood ends abruptly at seven when she's given a set of knives and a punishing training regimen under Maeve's tutelage. When disaster strikes, Orpen takes her warrior ways on the road, trying to find a mysterious city mentioned by her mothers. Warned not to trust others, Orpen fights a longing for people, one thing she has in common with skrake, and an encounter with other survivors hurls her plans along an even more dangerous path.

In her debut novel, Irish author Davis-Goff, co-founder of Tramp Press, writes Orpen's apocalyptic world in a compelling cadence and shines at the bleak details--a road is "barely a path, a rough line, like a finger drawn across dry dirt." Her fight scenes hit the sweet spot and help highlight the natural feminist bent of the work. Despite the grim surroundings, there is beauty in Orpen's world, where she was taught to survive, but also how to live.

STREET SENSE: A dystopian future filled with zombie-like creatures and a strong young girl trying to make her way to salvation. Some minor hiccups involving the folks she meets on the road, but overall this was a cool read.

COVER NERD SAYS: I like this cover quite a bit. I'm a sucker for a road to nowhere (I'm living that metaphor), but I really dig the red X. A simple addition to the art that adds more than two simple lines to the mystery. I can't take much issue with the cover blurb since the text was kept very small, but if you're going to use a blurb, is "A riveting novel" enough to use cover space? Ivey's full blurb is on the back and the rest of it is much more powerful.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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