Being that I am 56 books into this journey now, I did not think that I would encounter many firsts from here on out but I did with Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. The book itself is a masterpiece of American fiction that is centrally focused on one of the most common themes of the Pulitzer Prize which is slavery with the civil war insight. Although this book does not include the civil war or even the lead up, you live with the reality of the civil war looming for these people, which is an odd feeling I think Jones’ makes you conscious of.
The ‘first’ that I mention here is that I went through the entire book slightly confused as to what is going on in this work. That in itself is not a ‘first’, not by a long shot, but the ‘first’ was that in my ‘sort of’ confusion was that an interview with the author that was included at the end of my edition of the book helped me significantly appreciate this work.
Edward P. Jones is a masterful writer of the perfectly simple anecdote. There are so many anecdotes throughout this novel that I felt like I was reading a collection of short stories. The only thing that really ties this novel together is the county which I think is Jones’ point. Jones tells his stories simply and with great precision. His use of tense, foreshadowing, chronicling the history of a people, and fabricating exact details that seem to jump of the page at you was delightful. There have been a few novels in this journey that were so life-like that I thought that the author was ripping some historical story and getting all the credit for it. The other work this tale reminds me of his Hijuelos’ Mambo King Plays Songs of Love which I was certain was a true story. When I found out that Cesar and Nestor were never on the Lucy Show, and that Manchester County is not a real place, I was equally devasted in a way only engrossing fiction can do. These stories are true in the most metaphysical sense. These stories will live on in my psyche as long as I live as something that legitimately occured in time and space, and that is something very unique and special like Henry walking home in the rain or Lenny and George talking about the farm.
Jones’ characters are some of the most well crafted characters I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Much of the story is straightforward and at times cliche enough to be real, which I found refreshing. Moses’ relationship with Caldonia seemed like a story I have heard a thousand times so to speak, not in the exact setting but I saw it coming from a mile away. I was not then distanced from the story by its predictability. Predictability is an interesting thing in art. I take the stance that if I know what is coming, just make it the perfect representation of that story that you can. I think that there are elements in The Known World that are just that, the best representation of those stories I have come across. There is also something dark and enchanting about several passages that my taste for magical realism was quite pleased with like Stamford’s encounter with the lightning, blueberries, and crows.
I think this is one of a slight few of these novels so far that I would read again because I am certain in my confusion at times I skipped over some beautifully odd, little nooks of this book that I would like to find again like Counsel at Mildred’s house looking for the gold.