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Jamestown: A Novel [Hardcover]

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Item description for Jamestown: A Novel by Matthew Sharpe...

Jamestown chronicles a group of "settlers" (more like survivors) from the ravaged island of Manhattan, departing just as the Chrysler Building has mysteriously plummeted to the earth. This ragged band is heading down what's left of I-95 in a half-school bus, half-Millennium Falcon. Their goal isto establish an outpost in southern Virginia, find oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area. Based on actual accounts of the Jamestown settlement from 1607 to 1617, Jamestown features historical characters including John Smith, Pocahontas, and others enacting an imaginative re-version of life in the pioneer colony. In this retelling, Pocahontas's father Powhatan is half-Falstaff, half-Henry V, while his consigliere is a psychiatrist named Sidney Feingold. John Martin gradually loses body parts in a series of violent encounters, and John Smith is aruthless and pragmaticredhead continually undermining the aristocratic leadership. Communication is by text-messaging, IMing, and, ultimately, telepathy. Punctuated by jokes, rhymes, "rim shot" dialogue, and bloody black-comic tableaux, Jamestown is a trenchant commentary on America's past and present that confirms Matthew Sharpe's status as a major talent in contemporary fiction.

Outline Review
Amazon Significant Seven, April 2007: On the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, you won't want to confuse Matthew Sharpe's new novel by that name with the many commemorative histories that are coming out alongside it. In this gleefully anachronistic and deeply scatological tale, history repeats itself in a post-apocalyptic future that's as violent as the past. Sharpe connects many of the familiar historical dots (Pocahontas saves Captain John Smith and falls for John Rolfe, for example), but his settlers don't arrive from across the Atlantic in search of new land for tobacco: they flee a Manhattan where the Chrysler Building has just collapsed and the water is poison, driving an armored bus down the ruins of I-95 in search of the supplies of gas and clean food that they hope the territory of Virginia might provide. Amid the gore and smut, you'll find a surprisingly touching love story, starring a restless, de-Disneyed, and thoroughly charming Pocahontas, and thrillingly inventive language on every page that skims from Elizabethan archaism to IM slang and back, often in the same sentence. --Tom Nissley

Questions for Matthew Sharpe

Jamestown is Matthew Sharpe's fourth book (his previous novel, The Sleeping Father broke out into wide readership, thanks in part to a surprise Today show book club selection). We asked him a few questions about his latest work.

Outline: What attracted you to the Jamestown story (aside, of course, from cashing in on the 400th anniversary)?

Sharpe: For a dozen years I worked as a writer in residence in New York City public schools for a nonprofit called Teachers & Writers Collaborative. In the late '90s a group of middle-school teachers in Queens asked me to help them develop some creative writing exercises for a unit they were about to teach on the Jamestown settlement of 1607 in Virginia. I read John Smith's several accounts of his sojourn there, made up some writing exercises, road-tested them, and liked the material so much I decided to do a big, novel-length writing exercise about it. I was drawn to the extremity of the story, the big personalities--Smith, Pocahontas, Powhatan--and, well, the awfulness of it. The story of Jamestown functions as one of the founding myths of our nation, and I wanted to highlight how America began in violence, bloodshed, and a level of incompetence that would be ridiculous had it not been so deadly; in other words, Jamestown was a lot like the administration of George W. Bush.

As for cashing in, I leave that to lottery winners and poker champions.

Outline: You reveal how the former United States has come to this post-apocalyptic state of affairs in bits and pieces. Did you work that future history out for yourself beforehand, or did you just fill it in on the go, as needed?

Sharpe: I'm inclined to use the term post-annihilation rather than post-apocalyptic, since "apocalypse" implies revelation, i.e., the receiving of some crucial, maybe even divine knowledge. I don't see the people in my novel being the beneficiaries of that kind of knowledge, though some of them are struggling mightily to attain it. And I had a really good model for the post-annihilation future I depict, namely, the pre-annihilation present, presided over by the world's superpower-of-the-moment, us. As for working out my imaginary future beforehand or making it up as I went along: the latter, always the latter. The novel is an improvisation--a structured one, I hope, but the excitement (and terror) of writing fiction for me derives from the way I am always simultaneously playing the game and making up the game.

Outline: How did you choose which elements from the original Jamestown story to include, and which to discard?

Sharpe: Mostly by intuition. I knew I wanted a cross-cultural love story and a cross-cultural horror story to co-exist: this would be the central tension of the novel, each would offset the other, or so I hoped. The primarily economic purpose of the original settlers also seemed important to include. The rest I used or invented as guided by presentiment. And, for better or worse, the things I say in interviews about the novel are mostly retroactive insights--hypotheses more than explanations. The person who wrote the book knows more about it than the person answering these questions does.

Outline: Ben Marcus has written, "My feeling is that the impossible must be made viable, and only through language, that language is not subject to the laws of physics and therefore must not be restricted to conservative notions of 'sense' and 'nonsense,' but must pursue what appears impossible in order to discover the basic things." What's your take on that?

Sharpe: I like what Ben Marcus does with language in his own fiction and in his essays about other peoples'. I'd say one of the ways I tried to use language to depict the impossible in Jamestown was to represent the past, the present, and the future happening simultaneously. This happens at the level of content--people in a future America living one of America's originary historical events as if it had never happened before--and, I hope, it also happens at the level of style--people talking in English that is Shakespearean one moment, Keatsean the next, Otis Reddingesque the next, or all in the same sentence, or word.

Outline:Jamestown is dedicated to Lore Segal, who is known in my house as the author of the fabulous kids' book, Tell Me a Mitzi, but who has had a long and varied career beyond that. What led you to honor her so?

Sharpe: Lore Segal is an excellent human being and was perhaps the most important writing teacher I had. I took a course with her at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan several years after graduating from college. It was all so dicey, "being a writer," it required an audacity I was attempting to muster. Lore's encouragement, her generosity, her good humor, her ability to help me figure out which parts of what I was doing were worth pursuing--these qualities of this wonderful woman helped me muster that audacity. She has a new book out called Shakespeare's Kitchen. Dear readers, if you have not already, please read the short story in there called "The Reverse Bug," and then, when you climb up off the floor, read the rest of the book.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   320
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 6" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.15 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 15, 2007
Publisher   Soft Skull Press
ISBN  1933368608  
ISBN13  9781933368603  

Availability  0 units.

More About Matthew Sharpe

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! MATTHEW SHARPE is the author of the novels "The Sleeping Father "and "Nothing Is Terrible, "as well as the short-story collection "Stories from the Tube," He teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University. His stories and essays have appeared in "Harper's Magazine, Zoetrope, BOMB, McSweeney's, American Letters & Commentary, Southwest Review," and "Teachers & Writers," He lives in New York City.

Matthew Sharpe currently resides in New York City, in the state of New York. Matthew Sharpe was born in 1962.

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Product Categories

1Books > Bargain Books > Literature & Fiction > Fiction
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary

Reviews - What do customers think about Jamestown: A Novel?

Touche, Forever  Aug 10, 2008
Anybody who reads this book and utterly denounces it, as far too many seem to have done on this website, is an idiot, and I hope they choke to death on their own enormous ignorance and severe lack of imagination.

This novel is a fiercely wise and loving reflection on the most base elements of human nature, pertinently humane, and made me laugh till I peed not just once, but countless times. It is the first book I think to lend to people, besides Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America.

I cannot wait to read it again and again. You suckers.
I'm trying to like this book...  Dec 18, 2007
I am wading through the book and it has finally started to come together about half-way through. The story is disjointed with little character or story development. I don't expect a good book to be an easy, mindless read but it shouldn't be a chore to get through it either. But, I love post-apocalyptic stories and will continue to muddle through it. The second half is a bit better at least and I would give it 1 1/2 if it was an option.
A Real Sleeper  Oct 19, 2007
I just received this book, and could only read the first 10 pages, before I found myself falling asleep. I thought it would be a great book, however I am very disapointed in the way the book reads the story did not flow. The book kept moving back and forth from character to charcter. Since I can not return the book back to the vendor (not worth the cost - online) I will donate it to my towns local book sale. DO NOT READ if you want to stay awake.
old weird America  Sep 28, 2007
Matthew Sharpe's America here is the America of Blood Meridian, a childlike, exuberant, and reflexively violent America. The writing is simultaneously coarse and refined, broad in its obsessions, but cutting and precise in its arch vocabulary. It also keeps its sense of humor all the way through. As absurdist and outlandish as this post-Apocalyptic mashup is, it remains true to the metaphors of the Jamestown settlement. The characters are well-delineated, and it's easy to relate to both the "native" populations and the interlopers as they struggle with cross-cultural communication, one's responsibilities to one's society, and what it's like to fall for a stranger who can scarcely conceive of your roots. John Rolfe's stoned reading of a Rorschach inkblot is a tour de force, moving deftly from the scatological to the heartbreaking, all the while hewing to the novel's own self-made mythos. Sharpe is conscientious about paying off his enigmas, like the red skin of the tribesman, their ability to speak English, and the nature of the war between Manhattan and Brooklyn. He's also good about slipping in historical and cultural nuggets, both ancient and modern. My only issue was with the obvious difficulty of sustaining such an over-the-top narrative. The relentlessness did get to be a little wearing on the backside of the arc.
A Weird and Funny Book  Jul 5, 2007
Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown takes a story that Americans are at least tangentially familiar with--the disastrous founding of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607--and transforms it into a post-apocalyptic satire. All the familiar names are here Smith, Rolfe, Powhatan and Pocahontas, but now these adventurers and Indians, the survivors of some terrible past doom, find themselves in a blasted brave new world full of violence and uncertainty. This might not sound like the stuff of fall-on-the-floor-laughing comedy, but in Sharpe's hands, it is. Divided into several first-person chapters, Sharpe allows his characters to reveal this re-hashed history in every terrible detail, from the execrable conditions at the colonists' camp to the fatally hilarious encounters between the two groups. It isn't easy to juggle so many characters, but Sharpe does so ably with a mixture of wit, cynicism, and linguistic brio, not seen in letters since Nabokov. The first-person narratives by turns are terrifying, funny, and sad (and usually all of those at once), and it is to Sharpe's credit that even the most repugnant characters are not above our sympathies. Sharpe saves the real lit fireworks, however, for his Pocahontas, who here, is a fast-talking, intelligent, vulnerable, monologist. Trust me when I tell you won't find any "Color of the Wind" fluff, here. (The character's e-mail and instant message exchanges with her sort-of beloved, Johnny Rolfe, are hilarious send ups of e-culture.) She is the funny, cynical, tragic center of this novel and one of many, many reasons why you should pick it up.

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