Terraform, December 1, 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Berlow
“King Tide” offers a vignette of a near future New York City where rising sea levels have led to Gowanus Canal (a real canal targeted for an EPA Superfund cleanup that never happened) overflowing its banks and inundating the old neighborhood. The protagonist Jordyn has had to leave the house she grew up in for nearby higher ground. It’s a soft-spoken story with little overt conflict. Nostalgia for drier days pervades the piece. Scientists warn us that global warming and rising sea levels will transform New York City. This story is a quiet snapshot of what we may expect.
It’s an extreme tide day on Gowanus Canal—a King Tide. During a King Tide the tide rises higher than usual and recedes lower than usual. People watch tide forecasts as we now watch weather reports. The protagonist Jordyn sets her alarm so that she can visit her grandparent’s house at low tide, which is usually underwater. The story is told in an understated way, but features small details that subtly convey how the world has changed. Jordyn dreams about “riding the old subway system her mother had told her about.” After wading through the shallow murk of the canal, the story ends with Jocelyn sitting on the steps leading up to her grandmother’s house, her feet still in the water. My initial reaction when finishing the story was an alarmed “That’s it?!” I expected a twist or surprise ending. However, the goal of the story is to convey a mood, so the ending is in keeping with the rest of it. No surprise was the surprise!
The previous week’s story at Terraform (“One Day I Will Die on Mars” by Paul Ford) also takes place in a future New York City flooded by rising sea levels. The two stories complement one another. The effective yet understated way “King Tide” is told contrasts with the more overt “One Day I Will Die on Mars” and demonstrates the range of voice and tone we can expect from Terraform. Terraform is building a coherent future ambience with its stories so far, and I look forward to next week’s offering.