Matthew Sharpe’s 2003 novel, The Sleeping Father, was a Today Book Club pick, a blessing that’s unlikely for his new Jamestown, a vulgar, cacophonous Sound and the Fury-style book for the wired generation, featuring all your favorite Jamestown characters tossed into a postapocalyptic salad. Like a gorier George Saunders, Sharpe sends a bus full of settlers — including the stars of the Pocahontas story, John Smith and John Rolfe — to Virginia from a future New York City where the rivers are toxic and the Chrysler Building just collapsed. There, they meet a colony of what may or may not be Native Americans and, exactly like their historical predecessors, they embark on a course of utter self-destruction.
Jamestown has a variety of narrators, each prone to rambling, and the onus is on the reader to piece together what transpires — but with the help of the strong factual base provided by another new book about Jamestown, Savage Kingdom by journalist Benjamin Woolley See review, that synthesis is a blast. Likewise, while Sharpe’s novel dwells far from reality, its kooky character development gives Woolley’s nonfiction an emotional center it heretofore lacked. (The real John Rolfe and Pocahontas did not conduct their romance via Sidekicked instant messages, but that’s not the point, is it?) These volumes weren’t intended as companions, nor are they for the faint of heart — did I mention the flaying? But their combined force cannot be ignored, as it presents a passionate dual testimony to how precarious the settlement of America once was…and, if we’re not careful, how tenuous it may become. A-