The Undiscovered Country is an intriguing who-done-it story that critiques antiquated social practices and values while remaining affectionate to its Georgia setting.
Mike Nemeth navigates the treacherous channels of family history and the health care system in this first-person story of Randle Marks. A man who is losing his aging mother to a set of shady siblings and doctors hoping to avoid prosecution, Randle is all this while trying to separate himself from his family and his former life as a convict. The Undiscovered Country follows Randle on his trip back home to Augusta, Georgia. There, he must play detective to find out how his mother has been manipulated by her other children—who are all after her assets—and how his mother has been manipulating them in turn.
Going back and forth from his childhood home to his mother’s bedside at the hospital and later rehab center, Randle slowly collects the pieces of information he needs to understand what has been taking place behind closed doors while he was living in Florida and behind bars. While on this mission of discovery, Randle also finds bitter truths about his life before leaving the South, bringing into question the love and respect he had for his mother, who had previously held an almost saintly place in his heart. With all the new information he’s collected, Randle has put himself at the center of the family he has made strides to keep at a distance. He, therefore, must make a series of decisions about both himself and his connections to the people he has discovered so much about.
Randle’s family is as diverse in characters as it is dysfunctional, with each of the three generations present having a different set of traits that Nemeth uses to paint a clear picture of change and progress. Randle’s niece and nephew represent the shift in gender roles and power structures on the forefront of social discourse today. He and his siblings play the part of a generation in transition, clinging to the traditions they grew up with and forced to either accept change or succumb to their own detrimental behaviors. And Randle’s parents represent the past, saturated with outdated displays of domesticity and masculinity to the greater disadvantage of all the children begotten by them.
The strongest point of this book is the perspective, allowing readers to follow Randle as he comes to term with both his past and present, with just enough introspection to be meaningful without overburdening the narrative arc. The story is driven as much by the interaction between characters as it is driven by Mark’s inner insights and memories.
Nemeth also displays a real talent for world-building in this piece, incorporating recognizable place names and streets into a story centered on an all-around Southern family, complete with all the dying pageantry and tradition of passing generations in a changing South.
The Undiscovered Country is one of our 2018 summer reads. View the full Summer Reading List here.