After Matthew Sharpe’s two Random House books tanked, his next novel, The Sleeping Father, was rejected by every major publisher. So he went to tiny, Brooklyn-based Soft Skull Press and suddenly had a mini-breakout novel of family dysfunction, complete with a Today show appearance. His new novel, Jamestown, is far more ambitious—a funny, violent adaptation of the Pocahontas story set in a postapocalyptic future among settlers from war-torn, polluted New York. And it even survived the recent bankruptcy of Soft Skull’s distributor. A relieved Sharpe talked to Boris Kachka.
So, this is historical fiction … and sci-fi?
My first idea was to have a bunch of people in an insane asylum reenacting Jamestown, but I realized that was already done with Marat/Sade and the French Revolution. So I thought, What if I set this novel, in a sense, in the past, present, and future all at the same time?
So many writers—Cormac McCarthy last year, Jim Crace this May—have turned to apocalyptic fiction. Why is that?
When you have Chimpy McFlightsuit in charge of the considerable American arsenal …
On a lighter note, Pocahontas is quite a character: She seems to speak Ebonics, Shakespeare, Valley Girl, and Text-Message all in a single sentence.
She also sounds like a sophomore English major at Wesleyan University, where I teach.
Your last book got a movie option, but something makes me think this won’t be such a crowd-pleaser.
What makes you think that? It’s a wholesome love story!
Actually, I think Jamestown would make a great movie.
Yeah, I see it as a Mel Gibson vehicle, in a reconstruction of the Algonquian language. Though Pocahontas is Jewish and we might have to change that.