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Matthew Sharpe Reads from 'Jamestown'

Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown isn't easily categorized. Its flat-footed title makes it sound like just another history, perhaps a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first English colony in the New World.

But don't be fooled. This Jamestown is a novel — perhaps the only one in what Sharpe calls the "post-apocalyptic/ sci-fi/historical genre." It's a funny, violent, romantic tale that begins when a cataclysmic event in a futuristic Manhattan sends a busload of survivors fleeing for the wilds of Virginia. Making their way down what's left of Interstate 95 in search of uncontaminated food and water, they arrive only to meet with more danger, this time in the person of bow-and-arrow-bearing warriors answering to the Native American potentate Powhatan. The story, which unfolds in the past, present and future, gets told in a series of blog entries, in language borrowing equally from Elizabethan English and instant messenger-speak.

Sharpe, the author of three previous works of fiction, is known for parodying the American quotidian. His 1998 short-story collection, Stories From the Tube, transforms the upbeat dialog of TV commercials into something far darker. His 2000 novel Nothing Is Terrible features a suburban orphan who accidentally kills her brother, falls in love with her sixth-grade teacher and runs away with her to Manhattan. And Sharpe's popular The Sleeping Father, published in 2003, tells the story of two Connecticut teenagers as they struggle to rehabilitate their father after he inadvertently mixes two incompatible anti-depressants, goes into a coma and emerges with brain damage.

While Jamestown includes all the touchstone historical characters, they've morphed in Sharpe's hands to become only faintly recognizable. Johnny Rolfe is the settlers' communications specialist; Pocahontas is part Valley Girl. As Sharpe told New York magazine: "She ... sounds like a sophomore English major at Wesleyan University, where I teach."

This reading of Jamestown was recorded in May 2007 at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Kulman
Linda Kulman, the editor of NPR.org’s weekly feature Book Tour, is an avid reader, veteran journalist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She worked as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report for a decade, where she reported for every section of the magazine. Most recently, she covered religion and consumer culture. Kulman’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and on NPR.org. She has collaborated on four non-fiction books, working with a variety of notable figures. Early on in her career, she worked for several years as a fact checker at The New Yorker. Kulman also earned a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.