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The Resurrectionist

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Overview

A young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.
"Dog days and the fresh bodies are arriving once again." So begins the fall term at South Carolina Medical College, where Dr. Jacob Thacker is on probation for Xanax abuse. His interim career—working public relations for the dean—takes an unnerving detour into the past when the bones of African American slaves, over a century old, are unearthed on campus. Out of the ...

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The Resurrectionist

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Overview

A young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.
"Dog days and the fresh bodies are arriving once again." So begins the fall term at South Carolina Medical College, where Dr. Jacob Thacker is on probation for Xanax abuse. His interim career—working public relations for the dean—takes an unnerving detour into the past when the bones of African American slaves, over a century old, are unearthed on campus. Out of the college’s dark past, these bones threaten to rise and condemn the present.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Dr. Frederick Augustus Johnston, one of the school’s founders, had purchased a slave for his unusual knife skills. This slave, Nemo ("no man") would become an unacknowledged member of the surgical faculty by day—and by night, a "resurrectionist," responsible for procuring bodies for medical study. An unforgettable character, by turns apparently insouciant, tormented, and brilliant, and seen by some as almost supernatural, Nemo will seize his self-respect in ways no reader can anticipate.With exceptional storytelling pacing and skill, Matthew Guinn weaves together past and present to relate a Southern Gothic tale of shocking crimes and exquisite revenge, a riveting and satisfying moral parable of the South.

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Editorial Reviews

Andre Dubus III
“Matthew Guinn has done something truly extraordinary here; he’s written a novel that is not only riveting and beautifully written, but one that dares to step into the long shadow of class and race in this country, a shadow into which Guinn shines a natural-born storyteller’s illuminating light. The Resurrectionist is a stunning debut.”
Ron Rash
“The Resurrectionist is a spectacular novel that seamlessly connects fact and fiction, past and present. Matthew Guinn is a novelist who possesses that rarest and most underrated of literary gifts—how to tell a story in such a way that the reader surrenders completely to its power.”
Steve Yarbrough
“I finished Matthew Guinn’s fine new novel, The Resurrectionist, with a rare sense of excitement. It’s relentlessly compelling, thoughtful, intelligent, and just plain wise. It’s a shame Robert Penn Warren is no longer with us, because this is a book he would love.”
Jamie Fiocco
“A wonderful debut; entertaining and enjoyable to read. Guinn does a really good job of intertwining present-day medical school politics with those of the schools during the Civil War era. I look forward to reading more of Matthew Guinn’s work!”
Timothy R. Smith - Washington Post
“A fine gothic novel…. Be warned: Corpses abound.”
Shelf Awareness
“Neatly juxtaposing the immense wealth and renown of the contemporary South Carolina Medical School against its avaricious origins, Guinn explores the broader issue of America's avoidance of its complicated and troubled history of slavery and race relations.”
Chris Offutt
“The best novel I've read in years, and absolutely the best first novel I've ever read, The Resurrectionist is just magnificent, a masterpiece. Surprising, compelling, moving, shocking, and satisfying.”
Library Journal
The renovation of a South Carolina medical school unearths skeletons from the past…literally. The search for the origin of the bones leads Dr. Jacob Thacker, already suspended for Xanax abuse, into a historical thicket that could endanger both his career and the future of the school. Thacker attempts to mediate between the school's gung-ho dean and the local African American community without derailing his reinstatement to practice. Guinn alternates deftly between this contemporary story and that of Nemo Johnston, the slave pressed into service as a resurrectionist at a time when the school could practice anatomy only on the cadavers of slaves. Nemo stays on after the Civil War, eventually rising precariously to the position of anatomy instructor. VERDICT Guinn makes good use of the rough—but fascinating—history of U.S. medical schools. Strong pacing, interesting lead characters, well-framed moral questions, and clever resolutions to both prongs of the story are the hallmarks of this winning debut that shows that in matters of race and American history, navigating to "truth" and "right" is almost always a complex journey. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
A stash of bones, found underneath a South Carolina medical school, links together two stories, one from the Civil War and one from the present, in first-time novelist Guinn's Southern gothic. The Civil War story explains how the bones got there: Since the school is short on corpses, recently purchased slave Nemo Johnston is dispatched to "resurrect" bodies of recently deceased slaves for medical research. Nemo is a complex character, resigned to slavery though he's clearly talented enough to be a surgeon. Yet he's not entirely noble, as Nemo takes easily to the grisly job, even bringing back a body or two that he's killed himself. He earns a financial success denied to most slaves, while being feared and despised by those in his community. Also new at the school, and also on the wrong side of history, is Sara Thacker, a midwife whose gender keeps her from training as a surgeon. In the present day, the bones of the slaves are discovered at the college, and the school panics over possible bad press and loss of donors when the history gets out. Jacob Thacker, a promising doctor who's been demoted to public relations because of a former Xanax addiction, is enlisted to protect the college's good name--but instead, he researches the archives and learns more of the details, including his own family connection. Nemo's story is ultimately more compelling than Jacob's, but Guinn provides a lot of twists and an effectively ominous mood, thanks partly to some not-for-the-squeamish medical scenes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393348811
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/4/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 455,841
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

A native of Atlanta, Matthew Guinn holds degrees in English from the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi, and the University of South Carolina, where he was personal assistant to the late James Dickey. He lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    Guinn's novel, a sure contender for the P.E.N. Award, is a brill

    Guinn's novel, a sure contender for the P.E.N. Award, is a brilliant exploration of what we once characterized as the sins of the fathers--in this case the terrible costs of slavery. But the slave at the heart of this story (in a series of artfully managed flashbacks to the era when Sherman's troops burned Columbia, SC) is a Django more plausible than the recently popular movie character. Guinn's eye for the hypocrisies with which accountability is dodged or postponed in the American present is unerring. This is a taut tale, told with great economy and the more powerful for it. In the grand tradition of Faulkner, a story set in the south offers abundant insight into the human condition.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2013

    Very Entertaining!

    Very Entertaining!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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