Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Waidner’

‘Sterling Karat Gold’ by Isabel Waidner – An Antic Non-Binary Satire


‘Sterling Karat Gold’ by Isabel Waidner   (2021) – 182 pages


And now for something completely different…

‘Sterling Karat Gold’ is more non-binary than anything I have read before.

First, what is non-binary writing? It is gender neutral. The most common set of non-binary pronouns is they/them/their used in the singular. In order to avoid saying the gender pronouns “he” or “she”, author Isabel Waidner uses “they”. This is what non-binary writing looks like:

Anyway Chachki built a portfolio from basically nothing, old curtains, while working at Tesco most of their life. ‘Shouldn’t have left last summer either’, they say. ‘Starting to think it was a mistake.’ They stub out their cig.”

On my first attempt to read ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ I gave up after reading three pages. Bullfighting on the streets of London? This is too crazy for even me.

Then, since it won the Goldsmiths Prize, I decided to give ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ another try. The first chapter is disorienting; it becomes more clear and a bit more straightforward in the following chapters.

The first sentence of the novel gives the reader a good idea where we are headed:

I’m Sterling. Lost my father to AIDS, my mother to alcoholism. Lost my country to conservatism, my language to PTSD. Got this England, though. Got this body, this sterling heart.”

One chapter is entitled “My Father’s Lover was Never the Step-Dad I wanted Him to Be”. Sterling’s father’s lover is Justin Fashanu who was a real person, an openly gay soccer star who hanged himself in 1998 after being accused of sexual assault by a seventeen year-old guy in Maryland.

In ‘Sterling Karat Gold’, there is a trial due to someone getting killed in the bullfight, and the Judge in the case is referred to as “His Dishonor”, not “Their Dishonor”.

It taught us to trust the feeling we had that we were non-consensual participants in a reality put together by politicians, despots, more or less openly authoritarian leaders.”

Along the way, Waidner makes great fun of Google Earth. It turns out Google Earth does have a primitive time travel function, but it’s tied to Street View and Photo Spheres and it does not work very well. Instead Sterling uses Keyhole Inc. fine-tuning software as a better alternative to go back in time in their spaceship.

For a novel that has such a wild unruly beginning and middle, the author could have come up with a more imaginative ending. It’s not that I disagree with the novel’s positions; I just thought it could be more clear and thus more subversive and persuasive.


Grade:   B





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