A septuagenarian recalls her younger years in Avni’s debut novel.
After being inspired by a Robert Goddard quote about memories, “Older Sarah,” attended by a presence named Ariel, reviews her past experiences as “Young Sarah.” The remembrances begin with her attachment to impetuous Guy, who dies in an automobile accident. Events then unfold at a leisurely pace in an unspecified locale (possibly Italy, as a trattoria and a villa are mentioned). Ethan Saddot, an older houseguest, greatly influences the young Sarah, providing emotional support after Guy’s death. He and Sarah develop a friendship before sleeping together, and their experiences shape her later approach to lovemaking, although Sarah is hardly promiscuous. She happily weds and later has two sets of twins, while also serving as an integral part of her husband Michael’s profitable electronics firm. Exquisitely attired and universally admired, she exudes beauty, refinement, intelligence, femininity, humility and principle; she’s especially sensitive to gender issues and equality between the sexes. To Ethan, she is “natural and guileless,” with barely a misstep during her lifetime, although at one point she misjudges a former acquaintance. In later years, she remains attractive, desirable and genuinely surprised at receiving male attentions. Avni gives her character a circular perspective: Old Sarah evaluates the story of Young Sarah, but casts herself and her past experiences in a positive light; although touched by tragedy, she’s virtually devoid of regret. Overall, the novel is polished, but isn’t a page-turner, as few surprises occur in this clear-cut chronicle of Sarah’s loves. It does offer a refreshingly unhurried view of sex, however, in which “[m]oral compatibility” matters; it stresses that people should trust each other before leaping into bed. Ariel’s role in the story, though, will likely be as unclear to readers as it is to Older Sarah: “I can never determine in my mind whether it [Ariel] was a dream, a figment of my imagination, or something related to my age and its need for rejuvenation and sexual excitement.”
An unassuming memory-based tale, with a central character that’s a near-perfect model of womanhood.