cover image The Inland Sea

The Inland Sea

Madeleine Watts. Catapult, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-64622-017-5

Australian writer Watts punctuates her eloquent debut with deep-seated anxiety about climate change. For the most part, the story follows a young woman’s downward spiral after she graduates from college and faces a bleak future. The unnamed protagonist finds work as an operator at a call center connecting those in need to appropriate organizations. The rote job turns daunting when calls suddenly pour in, saturating her in horrific reports of floods, fires, and violence. Meanwhile, her personal life remains chaotic as she continues her relationship with an emotionally abusive ex, and indulges in heavy drinking along with nightly hookups, of which she observes, “I wanted to be undone. I wasn’t interested in protecting myself.” Snapshots of her childhood reveal an angry father and her parents’ messy divorce, and the journal entries of real-life 19th-century explorer John Oxley, the narrator’s great-great-great-grandfather, find their way into the story. Oxley’s search for Australia’s inland sea is mirrored in the narrator’s bleak outlook on the future (“The sea need only rise a few meters for... the rock and sand and red gibber plains to become submerged once more”). While the narrative moves haphazardly, the prose is consistently rich and loaded with imagery. Watts’s bold, unconventional outing makes for a distinctive entry into the climate fiction genre. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Jan.)