Life must have been hard for those early American settlers. The place now known as Jamestown, Virginia, was full of badass Indians with sharp arrows and a language that white folk didn't understand—not to mention deadly microbes that could tear apart the intestines of any unaware traveler. Now imagine setting that legendary American history in the late 2000s. Sure, the natives still have weapons eagerly awaiting launch, but at least there's email!
Matthew Sharpe's hilarious and shockingly violent novel Jamestown not only gave me new appreciation for historical fiction (it stars a totally loveable and linguistically spastic Pocahontas—the ugly version, not the Disney one), but also slyly mirrors contemporary issues of war and political machismo.
Sharpe has a cutting intellect, and over the course of four books has become a powerful American voice with a skill for dense, emotionally unpredictable sentences. The philosophy that bubbles out of Jamestown is a dark and tragic one: Justice doesn't belong to the just (as Socrates said in Plato's Republic), but rather the one who draws the most blood.
There aren't many nice guys in Sharpe's 400-page, multi-voiced narrative, and when they do show up, they're usually dead soon after. "The very first monologue that I wrote for the novel was from the point of view of John Smith's Indian guide... Smith tried to ward off his captors by using this guy as a human arrow shield," Sharpe says. "One of the first things I thought when I was doing research was, 'What would that guy have to say?' I mean, what a sucky role in history!"
Sharpe aimed to give a voice to the natives whose side of the story has historically been underrepresented. Does that mean the "Indians" end up looking like noble heroes? Actually, no. Some of the native characters come off as bigger goons than the settlers. I wondered if there's been backlash from Native American readers. "I'm a little surprised that there has been none, and I can only imagine that it's because no one from the Algonquian community has read it, or they've read it and they don't care. I realize I am presenting something other than the politically correct version of the history, and that is not only were the settlers violent mayhem makers, but so were the natives. They were not necessarily peace loving."