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The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis [Hardcover]

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Item description for The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis by Michael Pritchett...

Massive debts and alcoholism. Drug abuse and failed courtships. And then, dead by his own hand, just three years after his triumphant return from the Pacific. thus, on October 11, 1809, Meriwether Lewis became the tragic hero of one of the great untold stories of American history. Now, for the 200th annivesary of his death, Bill Lewis, a high-school history teacher, is writing a book about his famous namesake that tells the rest of the story, one that includes the man who killed Alexander Hamilton-the traitor Aaron Burr-his daughter Theodosia (who believed she and her father would seize control of the western U.S. and Mexico and become emperors), the writer Washington Irving, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelly's widow, Mary. Meanwhile, Bill has problems of his own. His 14-year-old son Henry won't eat. He's gotten pulled into the troubled life of a pregnant student. and his clinical depression is back, which puts the fate of everything-his book, his family, his 13-year marriage to Emily, and his survival past 40-into even greater uncertainty. If he can only explain the mystery of why Meriwether ended his life as he did before Bill loses himself irrevocably in the compelling voice of his namesake. In this rich, confient debut novel, Michael Pritchett not only authentically recreates the world through which Lewis and Clark forced their way but also finds extraordinary parallels between Capt. Lewis's doub about manifest destiny and the contemporary uncertainty of the introspective modern male at a time when all our values are in question.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   416
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.3"
Weight:   1.4 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Nov 1, 2007
Publisher   Unbridled Books
ISBN  1932961410  
ISBN13  9781932961416  

Availability  0 units.

More About Michael Pritchett

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Michael Pritchett is also the author of an award-winning collection of stories, The Venus Tree. He is the winner of the 2000 Dana Award for a novel-in-progress. His stories have appeared in Passages North, Natural Bridge and New Letters, among other noteworthy magazines. He teaches fiction writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Michael Pritchett currently resides in Kansas City. Michael Pritchett was born in 1961.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Historical

Reviews - What do customers think about The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis?

I was really affected by this book...  Dec 20, 2007
The book tells parallel stories, one of Bill Lewis, 21st century clinically depressed high school history teacher; the other of Meriwether Lewis, one half of the famed explorer team, Lewis and Clark. In fact, the modern-day Bill Lewis is writing a book about Meriwether Lewis and is focused on discovering whether the first Lewis' death was suicide or murder, as he himself entertains more and more suicidal thoughts.

That doesn't set it up to be a real positive book, does it? But, somehow, this book was very affecting to me. It definitely turned Meriwether Lewis into a fascinating person full of stunning contradictions. The author relied heavily on the journals of expedition members and I fully intend to seek those out in the near future.
Good Historical Fiction  Nov 19, 2007
The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis by Michael Pritchett was a fascinating, engrossing book. I looked forward to reading this book so much as this summer my husband and I took a trip following a northwest route, some of it following the same route taken during Lewis and Clark's famous journey. I stood at Cape Disappointment where Lewis and Clark stood, trying to imagine their reaction to what they saw. Almost impossible to imagine as the whole developed country lay behind me and a vast wilderness lay behind Lewis and Clark at they looked out at the Pacific.

While the language used, that of the nineteenth century, was difficult to read and somewhat slow going, it fit the story and made it feel quite real. The story is told in two voices, that of Capt. Meriwether Lewis and of Bill Lewis, a high school history teacher who is trying to write the history of Capt. Lewis. As the book progresses, you find that Capt. Lewis and Bill Lewis share many traits, one being an overwhelming depression, to the point of wondering how each got up every morning to do the work assigned to them. Bill Lewis is hampered by many factors, his marriage is in trouble, his son won't eat and he has an irresistible impulse to associate with women who will only further damage his marriage. He despairs of ever finding whether Capt. Lewis actually committed suicide or was murdered.

Overall this was an engrossing, excellent book. The overwhelming amount of research to write this book was obvious and a job well done. I look forward to reading other books by Mr. Pritchett.

"In 1806, Lewis was touted at Presidential dinners in his honor. Just three years later, he was dead."  Nov 15, 2007
Focusing on the health, both physical and mental, of Meriwether Lewis during and after his twenty-eight-month exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, author Michael Pritchett shows the price paid by all the participants, especially by Lewis. Appointed by Thomas Jefferson to lead the expedition, which began in August, 1803, Lewis fought depression for much of his life, a condition which was not improved by the travails of the long expedition and the responsibilities he faced, including that of writing a journal, a task he often postponed.

Pritchett shows Lewis as he journeys from Pittsburgh to the Pacific and back, battling despondency, hunger, and illness, and dealing with lack of materials, wild animals, some rebellious party members, and hostile Indian tribes. Along the way, he falls in love with Sacagawea, the interpreter who accompanies her French husband, a chaste love on which Lewis never acts (which may have added to his stress). Since Lewis is shown trying to commit suicide in the first ten pages of the book, it gives nothing away to say that Pritchett, in creating his fictionalized version of Lewis, adheres to the belief that Lewis's death, three years after the journey, was suicide, not murder, the result of his depression, unrequited love, poor health, debts, and opium addiction.

A parallel narrative, taking place in contemporary times, follows the story of Bill Lewis, a high school teacher, also severely depressed, who is trying to write a book about explorer Lewis. Faced with marital troubles, a teenage son who has an eating disorder, an abused and pregnant former student (called "Joaney") whom he is trying to help (as Lewis tried to help Sacagawea, called "Janey" here), and an uncertain future, Bill Lewis is shown as the modern day equivalent, psychologically, of Lewis the explorer.

The contrast in scale between Lewis the explorer on his epic journey, and Bill Lewis the teacher, however, makes Bill Lewis's problems seem somewhat self-indulgent. The men's depressions and their immediate causes may seem similar, but the resources in modern times are so much greater that some readers may have difficulty identifying with Bill Lewis.

Lewis the explorer, however, is not a totally sympathetic person, either. He severely flogs a member of his party whose own depression has led to his desertion, he marks three Indian tribes for extermination, and he shows a shocking level of cruelty (and lack of Enlightenment). A man who "seemed unable to live on water, food, and air as though denied his proper nutriment on this earth," Lewis is a fascinating if contradictory character, one who may or may not be a hero for Pritchett's readers. n Mary Whipple

The Venus Tree
Meriwether Lewis: A BiographyBy His Own Hand?: The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis
Journals of Lewis and Clark (NG Adventure Classics)Suicide Or Murder?: The Strange Death Of Governor Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether and Bill Need A Boost  Nov 12, 2007
Michael Pritchett's debut novel, "The Melancholy Life of Capt. Lewis" has a Faulkner-esque quality; a dense, multi-layering of past and present; a gradual unfolding of plot and circumstances. Pritchett's control of this technically difficult story-telling method is admirable.

When I started "Melancholy Life," I was insecure about never having read a history of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Though for years I've had a copy of Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage," I've yet to read it. At times I was tempted to put "Melancholy Fate" down, quickly read the Ambrose, and then start back up again. In the end, I let my ignorance of Lewis & Clark be a kind of litmus to how well-told "Melancholy Fate" would be. I had no preconceived notions, nothing to compare the story to.

As the title suggests, this is a story in which the two main characters, Meriwether Lewis and a contemporary character, Bill Lewis, both suffer from "melancholy," that is, profound depressive episodes. The story see-saws back and forth between Capt. Lewis' exploratory journey, and the present-day Bill, who is a high-school history teacher attempting to write a book about the historical Lewis. The parallels between the two Lewis' is clear: depression to the point of insanity, difficulty in interpersonal relationships, attraction to unattainable women, same last name (there is no hint of them being related).

The historical details of the early Lewis narrative are sparse. Pritchett is more concerned with painting a kind of abstract of Lewis - what he might have been thinking and feeling, how these thoughts might have influenced his actions and words, as recorded by history and by his own extensive journals. During the present-day narratives, Bill fills in more historical details during many conversations with other characters. As the book progresses towards the historical Lewis' inevitable(?) suicide (or was it a murder - that is a question Bill Lewis wrestles over), there is a mounting tension in the present, in which the reader wonders whether Bill, who is similar to Lewis is so many ways, will follow the same course. His emotional state is so convincingly miserable, even the reader wonders how he could possibly keep going on.

The psychological rendering of both main characters is excellent. Any reader who has had experience with depression will be able to strongly identify with them. However, while I was able to maintain sympathy for Meriwether throughout the story, there was a point where I just wanted to slap Bill and say, "Better living through chemistry, dude." There is very little reference to medication or medical help for depression in general. Towards the beginning of the story, there is an incident that suggests Bill neglects his own medical care, which is troubling, because in this day and age, so much of what Meriwether would have been helpless against, Bill could have received help for. It could be that Bill's neglect of his personal health (as also illustrated by a smoking habit) is a deliberate attempt to get inside the mind and experience of the historical Lewis, or perhaps he is just simply so depressed he doesn't care. If the latter is Pritchett's intent, it is masterfully done, if not terribly evident to the reader.

The book sets the reader up for a profound, end-of-the-story kind of redemption and revelation, and while I really think Pritchett is aiming for this - a glimmer of hope with which to leave the reader - I don't really think he pulls it off. The readers lives so deeply inside the misery and insanity of both Lewis' inner lives for so long, that it's hard to come back from that place.

What I loved best about this book, was the historical drawing of Meriwether Lewis, the sense of exploring a new land for the very first time. The idea that in discovering something, in both the naming and measuring of it, its mystery - its beauty and purity - can be diminished. Meriwether and Bill both sense a kind of malevolence beneath the surface of this new country, this United States; it is suggested that the Enlightenment is a myth and a deception. It never happens because no one is ever actually "enlightened." A current of social malevolence carries forward to the present age, where undertones of cruelty towards society's weakest members - through the seemingly benign institutions of baseball and golf, for example - still exist.

"Melancholy Fate" leaves the uninitiated reader wanting to learn more about Lewis & Clark. Though not always an easy book to read, I recommend it, particularly for people interested in American history, or those who, like me, have had experience with depression.

Where this country started - nee, how it started - and where we've come... there is a thread there, a link that is worth studying and ruminating over. Pritchett is an admirable writer and I look forward to following his career.
Lewis and Lewis  Nov 5, 2007
Bill Lewis is a high school history teacher with such a bad case of writer's block that it is taking over his life. Lewis is working on a biography of famed explorer Meriwether Lewis and knows that he needs to have his book in print before the impending 200th anniversary of Meriwether's death in order to maximize the impact of the book. But Bill has become so obsessed by the mystery of Meriwether's death just three years after he and William Clark returned so triumphantly to civilization that he finds it impossible to finish the book unless he can fully explain Meriwether's apparent suicide.

Bill Lewis and Meriwether Lewis have much in common as it turns out. Like Meriwether, Bill suffers from periodic, but chronic, depression to such a degree that thoughts of death and suicide are never far away. Bill dislikes men and finds it as difficult to build a friendly relationship with another man as Meriwether did two hundred years before him. Meriwether yearned constantly for female companionship and wanted nothing more than to marry. Bill, although married, is in such an unstable relationship with his wife and son that he finds himself drawn to unlikely candidates with whom he might be able to begin a new life.

Michael Pritchett tells the intertwining story of these two men by alternating chapters in the voice of each man. He relies heavily on the actual journals of Lewis and Clark to tell the story of their famous expedition, quoting directly from the journals at times and using the same flowery language of that time to detail their adventures and the battle that Lewis waged with depression even as he pushed westward. As Bill Lewis gets closer and closer to the chapter of his book that will describe Meriwether's apparent death at his own hand, he seems to be sinking into the same state of melancholy that claimed Meriwether's life. For Bill, it becomes a race to the finish but it is a question of whose life will end first, his or Meriwether's.

Pritchett has written an interesting book but at times I found that the language and style of the early nineteenth century made for slow and difficult reading in the Meriwether Lewis chapters. The Bill Lewis chapters were a welcome break from that style but, as Bill began to identify more and more closely with Meriwether, even those chapters began to use Meriwether's antique style. Michael Pritchett's The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis puts a human face on Meriwether Lewis and, although it does not claim to solve the mystery surrounding his death, it is a book that will very likely encourage many of its readers to seek out the original Lewis and Clark journals.


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