Jamestown – Matthew Sharpe

Another Strand $1 book. I was so excited to find this, because I loves Jamestown. I love “alternative retellings.” I love post-apocalyptic worlds. This book’s backcover sold me.

Set in the indeterminate but not too distant future, JAMESTOWN chronicles a group of “settlers” (more like survivors) from the ravaged island of Manhattan, departing just as the Chrysler Building mysteriously collapses, heading down what’s left of I-95 in an armor-plated vehicle that’s half-schoolbus, half-Millenium Falcon. They are going to establish an outpost in southern Virginia, look for oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area.

The story is of course based on the actual accounts of the first ten years of the Jamestown settlement from 1607 to the death of Pocahontas in 1617. Set against a cataclysmic backdrop, the book features the historical characters�John Smith, Pocahontas, her father Powhatan, John Ratcliffe, John Martin, and John Rolf�but in an act of wild re-imagination, akin to Baz Luhrman’s re-interpretations of Shakespeare (the great playwright of the Jamesown era!), Powhaton is half-Falstaff, half-Henry V (with a psychiatrist consigliere, Sidney Feingold); John Martin gradually loses body parts in a series of violent encounters, while John Smith is a ruthless and pragmatic redhead continually undermining the aristocratic leadership; and Rolf’s and Pocahontas’s romance is conducted by text-messaging, IM-ing, and ultimately telepathy.

Despite the grim sounding circumstances and large quantity of spilled blood, it’s a romantic book, a meditation on history and interpretation, told in language that is endlessly delightful�the jokes, the rhymes, and the rimshot dialogue throw the story’s bleak underside into brilliant relief. It’s a big book�a cross between the terrific maximalist novels of Barth and Safran Foer and the minimalist magical satire of George Saunders.

The problem? It was awful, and I can’t exactly figure out why I feel that way. I don’t know if it was because it felt very self-aware, or it was too fantastical for me or what. Maybe its just that I had such high expectations for my find? In any case, it was abanandoned about a third in. If anyone else has read this (a long shot), let me know if things pick up, and I will try to soldier on.


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