Wednesday, August 15th, 2007
Dan Green (writ first as Brown, so corrected) on Jamestown:
However, to the extent that Jamestown does belong to the increasingly popular genre (increasingly popular among writers generally considered “literary” writers, that is) of the post-apocalypse narrative, it shares an aesthetic problem I have with the genre itself (and to some degree with science fiction as well). According to Laura Stokes, “Perhaps because of these more “literary” novels, the focus of post-apocalyptic literature has also shifted away from the logistics of the world’s end to the specifics of survival—that is to say, less of a preoccupation with how the world ends, and more of an interest in who is left behind.” Jamestown certainly appears to fit this description–it focuses primarily on “who is left behind”–but I don’t think the “logistics of the world’s end” is ever very far removed from the writer’s, or, more importantly, the reader’s interest.
The personal and public spaces that historical narratives treat are significant to Sharpe’s novel, but I really wasn’t concerned with why the world had fallen. This is partly what I found interesting in Jamestown. The persona in the novel going about their business was enough. I started with the question, but ended not really thinking that information would’ve been of value. (I thought the novel should have ended 50 pages before it actually did; it got way too unnecessary upon Johnny’s return to NY.)
Many readers and reviewers of Jamestown have dwelled on its humor, its lively prose, and its creation of distinctive voices among the various narrators who collectively provide us with this account of a new Jamestown. But I was unable to fully appreciate the humor (too much of which is, in my opinion, created by the rather cheesy use of anachronism) or the prose and its evocation of voice because I didn’t understand the context in which the jokes were supposed to be funny or the reason why, for example, Pocahantas talks in such a late 20th century, young girl idiom (even at times breaking out into what seems an African-American dialect of sorts). I just didn’t get it, although after finishing the novel I was able to retrospectively recognize the skill with which Sharpe manages to get his story told (not settling for the plodding conventions of “psychological realism”) and the energy he invests in his prose from sentence to sentence. Still, I also finished the novel thinking that too much of that energy had been expended in painting a portrait of the post-apocalypse that seems rather tepid and familiar in its depiction of human society gone feral after the worst, predictably enough, has happened.
I can certainly be accused of writing and responding to the “distinct voices” in the novel; this is, in my mind, the thrust, and I found P’s idiomatics scrappy and “vernal.” I think there’s only one joke in the novel: its historical circle and coincidental naming. Pocahontas is in the future because the early 1600s are not in the past. But in the novel Pocahontas is simply a Pocahontas, ignorant of things behind the veil of an un/re-constructed past.
I find all post-apocalypse stories odd. We fear or are interested in our end and our death and imagine a world without the “us” of now in a future where “us” is transcendent or back to the stone age. Often these stories take on the flavor of political scenario building. In fixing on the voices, Sharpe avoids the pitfall of having to explain “what happened.” I would’ve found that too heavy.