Against the Country: A Novel
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NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY VULTURE AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • 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, Ben 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?
Praise for Against the Country
“Iconoclastic . . . Against the Country has obvious affinities to Southern Gothic, both in its voice and in the delight it takes in rural ignorance and grotesqueries. . . . [A] country cousin of David Foster Wallace.”—The New York Times Book Review
“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
“Metcalf’s unnamed narrator dazzles with his Puritan deadpan and capacious intellect, not to mention his double-barreled blasts of dark humor and wicked satire. . . . There are so many brilliant turns of phrase in Against the Country that it’s hard to choose favorites, but Metcalf is at his sharpest and most seductive when his antihero does more than blast and blame, when he steps outside his sermons to say something real. . . . Every note in every solo is sounded with exquisite perfection.”—Slate
“Faulknerian . . . eccentric, magnificent Southern Gothic metafiction.”—Vanity Fair
“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
“A daring conglomeration of every trick, swindle and gimmick possible using only ink and paper, a pulpwood imagination machine so finely and expertly wrought that it can take on Jefferson, Thoreau, the church, patriotism, race relations, sexual identity, J. D. Salinger, the myth of America and a thousand other targets . . . [Against the Country] is absolutely and completely worth all investment of time and effort, because it is an undeniably beautiful object, sharp as a new razor.”—NPR
“One of the more necessary—and most eloquent—expressions of a distinctly American, provincial rage in some years.”—Flavorwire
pessimistic circles Ugliness Illinois bull Sunder A great sorcery Affront Call it fear Trash pit A judgment O Goochland Blackberries BOOK TWO Partial birth Rattle Balloons A fictional magic National color wheel Bloodless composition Brief window The confluence of long roads (Gestation) The second sort of suicide Names Rifle Pistol Shotgun Sanctuary BOOK THREE I feared the corn American expressions My mother’s ankle On Sundays As to God Faggotry Patterson
suffered elsewhere in the world. Yet should my hurts, on account of their relative smallness, be ignored? should a preventable wound, because it is shallower than the next, be entirely excused and forgotten? I wish now that my brother had never healed the fixture in my room. By sunlight the faded and peeling pink wallpaper, which of course there was no money to change, caused only a passing fright, but by tungsten its advances were bolder still, and conveyed a sense of old and pungent
make our backs wide and strong, so that we might not suffer the same as he had, and would not in time (in irony? indecency?) be compelled to despise our own children as we obviously would ourselves, on which new way of thinking my brother and I quickly bet (having crapped out previously on the need-based theory) and stuck to it even when she amended her scheme to include the possibility that because of Frank’s wont to “overdo things,” and owing to his reluctance to “ease off on” any course he
Word or only the Wafer that was meant to save me? For a stretch I believed it was both, and was pleased. A happiness to hear the Word; a happiness also to taste the Flesh, since I knew It at least by name, if not by sight, and had decided already, long before any Church-prescribed “retreat” to a half-defunct summer camp nearby (where some few of us had previously been day campers, to be lashed out at and spit upon by town kids whose parents lacked either the money or the intel not to board their
of gold, as opposed to animal crap, so that other little girls might be eaten along the way?) Alternative Two is that they had thought the problem through, as they had all problems prior, and at last dug Old World claws into New World dirt in order to enact an end to the tradition that had sent so many of their cousins out west to comb the continent and die while the cocks who drove them onward grew richer and harder by the mile. (And how many frozen dinners were needed in those passes, Donner