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Against the Country: Book summary and reviews of Against the Country by Ben Metcalf

Against the Country

by Ben Metcalf

Against the Country by Ben Metcalf X
Against the Country by Ben Metcalf
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2015
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

Against the Country is a gift for fans of Southern Gothic and metafiction alike. Set in the Virginia pines, and overrun with failed parents, racist sex offenders, cast-off priests, and suicidal chickens, this novel challenges literary convention even as it attacks our national myth - that the rural naturally engenders good, while the urban breeds an inevitable sin.

In a voice both perfectly American and utterly new, Metcalf introduces the reader to Goochland County, Virginia - a land of stubborn soil, voracious insects, lackluster farms, and horrifying trees - and details one family's pitiful struggle to survive there. Eventually it becomes clear that Goochland is not merely the author's setting; it is a growing, throbbing menace that warps and scars every one of his characters' lives.

Equal parts fiery criticism and icy farce, Against the Country is the most hilarious sermon one is likely to hear on the subject of our native soil, and the starkest celebration of the language our land produced. The result is a literary tour de force that raises the question: Was there ever a narrator, in all our literature, so precise, so far-reaching, so eloquently misanthropic, as the one encountered here?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Metcalf composes a relentlessly articulate paean to the American project. In the end, this isn't a Southern novel, because it isn't exactly a novel. It's more like man's revenge on God for the world he made - and anyone who disagrees must be a Yankee." - Publishers Weekly

"While Metcalf constantly impresses with his intelligence, his meta games and gnarly prose put such tough hurdles between the reader and this thorny parable of pain's memory that it's hard to see him winning more than a special, devoted audience." - Kirkus

"Exceptional in its verbal brilliance and conscientiousness, Against the Country involves us in a family's anguished and hilarious struggle against the strange dooms that seem peculiar to white rural America. This is a savage and gladdening novel." - Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland and The Dog

"This novel is a lightning strike. It is a surge of electrical energy captured inside sentences. Ben Metcalf is a master of rhetoric and rage and persuasion and darkness and wit. Against the Country is an explosion of a book." - Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers

"Ben Metcalf is a brilliant writer, and Against the Country is an ingenious and hilarious novel, a glittering, bitter celebration of how the lousiness of life can be redeemed in the hands (and mouth) of a top-shelf teller of life's stories." - Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask and The Fun Parts

"Against the Country makes me feel joyful the way Candide, for all its astute gloominess, makes me feel better about the world because such a brilliant, funny thing has been made in it. The intelligence is generous and omnipresent, and every single page made me laugh." - Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

"To find anything reminiscent of this writing you'd need to go back about 150 years, though it sounds new in Metcalf's handling and occasionally even punk. What he has to say about American childhood is frightening and true. Virginia, you have been both honored and shamed by your wayward son." - John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead: Essays

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Author Information

Ben Metcalf

Ben Metcalf was born in Illinois in 1966, and raised in that state and later in rural Virginia. He was for many years the literary editor of Harper's Magazine. He has since taught at Columbia University's School of the Arts and joined the Lapham's Quarterly editorial board. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, Harper's Magazine, The Best American Essays, and elsewhere.

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