Having lived in the South for 15 years, there are few things about its history that I don’t know and even fewer that shock me. Now please do not read this as acceptance of the past by any means, as it is certainly not. What I mean by not being shocked is that with history and stories not being hidden, the history of the South in all of its brutal and unflinching honesty is out there for people to see and know. I really thought I knew most of the history of my home – that is until I read Matthew Guinn’s new book The Resurrectionist.
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.
This debut novel by Guinn is a must read. I truly appreciated this novel opening my eyes to a part of the South that I didn’t know about. The ideas explored were fascinating and this Southern gothic novel reads quickly, like a thriller. My only issue (and I hate to even call it an issue) with The Resurrectionist was that I wanted more at times from the story. There was a subplot in the book that I thought needed more attention to be effective and there is another part that I felt needed more to be believable given the time period. Please do not let this keep you from reading this book. It truly is a must read as I was in shock that this even (robbing of graves for medical school) occurred. Am I naive? Perhaps. But I am now an more informed person thanks to Guinn’s novel.