In this sequel to the fascinating I, Sarah Steinway (2018), Tova, like Sarah, is an older Jewish American woman struggling to survive the apocalyptic Emperor Floods that have inundated the East and West Coast. Set in the near future in Tova’s own pen, Mary Carter’s All Good Tova Goodman revisits a number of the questions — and characters — that occupied the first book, such as the role of the government during and after the catastrophe and the cause of the rising tides.
Tova is born during the “good war” when her father is a soldier. Her mother feels that she is a very good baby girl and names her Tova Goodman accordingly. Tova will come to see her doubly good name as both a mystery and a calling. She will “spend her entire lifetime searching compulsively for the meaning of the word “good,” consulting many Jewish and secular texts and fiction and midrash of her own making. Tova believes that “good” requires a closer reading. What makes something good, according to G‑d, literature, and humanity?
All Good Tova Goodman describes what happens after the West Coast has gone underwater. So many incomprehensible tragedies and strange phenomena occur that at times Carter’s prose feels like a rushing stream of consciousness. Tova lives in the “embrace of the northern escarpment of the Sandia mountain range” in Placitas, New Mexico. Before the Emperor tides, Placitas was a retirement community; now, it is the seashore. The period after the floods is called the “good old days” — just another fabrication, an advertising tagline. Tova recalls, “The news poured down the wires and scorched the computer screens and … our very viscera with brand new viruses. But that is not what the survivors were told. They were told it is all good. all good, and all the while it was no-good, no-good, no good at all.” She adds that they went crazy “seeing it all and being told that what we saw was not what we saw.”
And what became of the government, emergency services, and rescue during the flood and epidemics? “They took charge. Doled out libel, called it justice. Killed, bullied. They broke us. Lied to us. Lashed out at us. Fired us. Canceled our pensions. Or worse, simply ignored us. We were left to survive things as best we could. No helping hands. No emergency aid. No good came of it.” Government leaders take to the skies in large drones. Some shoot at people on the ground for target practice. Yet survivors in Placitas carry on, some even achieving old age. Tova herself lives to be one hundred.
A question that arises for the reader in I, Sarah Steinway returns briefly in All Good Tova Goodman: What was the cause of the Emperor floods and the other disasters that followed? The reader assumes that climate change is the culprit, but this is never made explicit. Tova explains, “It was a mass extinction. Maybe it started with the Emperor Floods. Or not.” No one talked about how or why this thing took place. Maybe it was the result of “global warming, loss of pollinators, crop failures, soil erosion. And not events that could be labeled good or bad.”
Tova spends “her entire lifetime searching for the meaning of the word ‘good.’ And now, enough of that.”