A Prizewinning Debut from 2003: THE KNOWN WORLD

Some people think it’s wrong to write in books, but I’m glad my daughter Mary, who gave me my copy of Edward P. Jones’ THE KNOWN WORLD, wrote the date of her gift on the title page. In 2003, I was on a mission to read as many Pulitzer Prize winning novels as I could, a project I eventually gave up because so many of them were such huge downers. THE KNOWN WORLD sat on my shelf, unread, for over fifteen years.

I scribbled (in pencil) in THE KNOWN WORLD, too, on the blank page just inside the back cover. I had to, or I couldn’t have kept the novel’s cast of characters and their relationships with each other straight.

The story, set in 1855 in fictitious Manchester County, Virginia, revolves around Henry Townsend, a Black slave owner, his family, his 33 slaves, and the handful of white people that enter their world. Henry dies, at 31, in the first chapter.

That free Black people might have owned slaves prior to the Civil War had never occurred to me, which is not surprising, as I am dumb about a lot of my country’s history. I assumed Jones did years of research in order to accurately address this topic, but I found a 2012 interview in which he said he made most of the brutal details up.

I highly recommend THE KNOWN WORLD. Jones’ writing is dense, visceral, Faulkneresque (I’m not the only one who thinks so), beautiful, masterful. As a fiction-writer myself, always struggling with point-of-view (POV), I was struck over and over by the author’s ability to switch POV not just chapter to chapter or scene to scene, but within paragraphs, successfully.

Jones, 72, doesn’t have a website. His Wikipedia pages is short on information. THE KNOWN WORLD, his only novel, won him the Pulitzer Prize at age 53, in 2004.

PS According to info on the back cover of my paperback copy, the image on the front is from the Eudora Welty Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, reprinted by permission.

7 Responses

  1. ~Judy~
    | Reply

    You have now piqued my interest – I just may have to read this one, if I can find it.
    BTW – do you keep a list of your books on “Good Reads”?
    I find this most helpful not only to keep track of the books I read or want to read but honest reviews from other readers.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Hello Judy, I’m glad I piqued your interest! No, I don’t do Good Reads, but I probably should. Now YOU have piqued MY interest!

  2. Lazeth
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    Judy, this book is available on “Book Bub” to read on your Kindle.
    Now, I am going to re-read it! Thanks for your insight, Marianne!

  3. Shirley
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    Loved The Known World! I’ve just finished The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride–really good!
    And I write in my books also. 👌

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Haha, we who write in books. I started James McCourt’s ‘TIS yesterday, something I intended to read long ago. It’s tremendously entertaining. I have been thinking about THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE, so thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Audrey Elaine Simonson
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    Thanks for all the comments. I have started reading the vast number of books in my house and on my Kindle…got into an unexplainable trend of WWII books…am now in a light romance novel now. Am on the local library board. Pocahontas County is the only one in the state with a public library in every town. Audrey Simonson, Plover/rural Rolfe, Iowa

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      That’s great of you, Audrey, to serve on your library’s board!

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