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The Ward: 07/06/16

The Ward by Jordana Frankel

The Ward by Jordana Frankel is a post-environmental disaster story set in the remains of Manhattan, now renamed the Ward. It's a mostly flooded island now where people live in the non-flooded floors and grow food on the rooftops. They are also suffering from a contagious and fatal disease called the Blight.

Ren is a teenaged drag racer who sidelines as a hunter of fresh water. At the start of a race she's given a tip about a new source of fresh that she'll be well rewarded for if she can find.

The hidden stream is semi-fictional, based on description of a stream that used to flow through Manhattan and whose name is remembered via the short Minetta Street and Minetta Lane.

Thematically the book is similar to The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard. I read it, though, as part of the "Under Manhattan" side project of my road narrative project. Manhattan as one of the metropolitan hubs is fairly anti personal car, favoring instead taxis, buses, and of course the subway. It's also flat enough (though very long) that it can be walked given good shoes and enough time.

Given the city's long history (by United States standards) and the way the subway system and the consolidation of the Five Boroughs created the modern New York City, there are numerous stories featuring the under layers of New York and specifically Manhattan. Even in a disaster story, Manhattan maintains layers and the subway will be there as a strange reminder of a previous civilization.

Manhattan though, being also previously New Amsterdam and before that inhabited by the Lenape. This provenance gives the island a literary mysticism. Sure, Washington DC has a similar history and has the bonus of being so well planned. It also has its ties to the Masons. But there's something about the unruly growth of Manhattan that engenders the fantastical tales of hidden societies, magical water, underground hauntings, mood slime, and so forth.

Four stars

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