I am reading a spectacular debut by an exciting new literary talent. It’s Matthew Guinn’s The Resurrectionist, coming July 8 from W.W. Norton & Company.
Resurecctionist n. (a). Hist. A body-snatcher; a resurrection man; (b) gen. a person who resurrects something (lit. & fig.); (c) a believer in resurrection
About The Book:
Nemo Johnston was one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public relations for his medical school’s dean, finds himself facing a moral dilemma when a campus renovation unearths the bones of dissected African American slaves—a potential PR disaster for the school. Will Jacob, still a stranger to his own history, continue to be complicit in the dean’s cover-up or will he risk his entire career to force the school to face its dark past?
First-time novelist Matthew Guinn deftly weaves historical and fictional truth, salted with contemporary social satire, and traditional Southern Gothic into a tale of shocking crimes and exquisite revenge—and a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining moral parable of the South.
About The Author:
A native of Atlanta, Matthew Guinn earned a BA in English from the University of Georgia. He continued graduate school at the University of Mississippi, where he met his wife Kristen and completed a master’s degree. At the University of South Carolina, where he earned a Ph.D. in English, he was personal assistant to the late James Dickey. In addition to the Universities of Mississippi and South Carolina, he has taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at Tulane University’s School of Continuing Studies in Madison, Mississippi.
Matthew and Kristen live in Jackson, Mississippi, with their two children, Braiden and Phoebe.
“Dog days and the fresh bodies are arriving once again.”
Historical Note: (from the book)
The events of The Resurrectionist are drawn from actual medical practice in the southern United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth.
Guinn is indebted to Abraham Flexner and Robert L. Blakely.
Abraham Flexner was a crusader for medical college reform in the early twentieth century; his report for the Carnegie Foundation, entitled Medical Education in the United States and Canada, was published in 1910. Flexner’s expose of the schools of his era–many of them rife with charlatanry, operated without regulation for pure profit–ushered in a new era of medical reform. For sheer revelatory content, his report rivals any novelistic invention.
In 1989, the archaeologist Robert Blakely was called to the Medical College of Georgia when human remains were discovered in the earthen cellar of the campus’s oldest building during renovations. His work, aided by the cooperation of MCG authorities, culminated in the publication of Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Century Medical Training (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1997).
Although Guinn changes names and locations, the character of Nemo Johnson is drawn from the enigmatic biography that Bones in the Basement sketches of Grandison Harris, a slave purchased by the MCG faculty prior to the Civil War. Harris functioned as the school’s janitor, butler, and body snatcher–or resurrectionist, in the parlance of the day. With the faculty’s silent endorsement and support, Harris routinely pillaged Augusta’s African American cemetery, Cedar Grove, until his retirement in 1905. Harris died in 1911, having never divulged his activities and without facing official censure for carrying out his nocturnal duties. To date, the location of Grandison Harris’s remains in Cedar Grove is unknown.
Prepare to be fascinated!
Here are some great websites to learn more: