Eck, Matthew 1974-
Eck, Matthew 1974-
Born January 30, 1974; married. Education: Wichita State University, B.A.; University of Montana, M.F.A.
University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, assistant professor of English; writer. Military service: U.S. Army, beginning 1992, served in Somalia and Haiti.
Milkweed National Fiction Prize, 2007, for The Farther Shore.
The Farther Shore, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 2007.
Editor, Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.
At the age of eighteen, Matthew Eck knew that he wanted to be a writer. He felt, however, that he lacked authentic experience—and he needed money for his college education. So Eck enlisted in the U.S. Army, signing on for four years. "I … joined because I never thought at eighteen that I'd be in a war," Eck told Levi Asher of Literary Kicks. Events caught up with Eck, and he served active duty in Somalia and Haiti in the 1990s. There he gained a firsthand view of modern war zones in which enemies are not easily identified and goals are not necessarily well-articulated. This sort of warfare forms the theme of Eck's debut novel, The Farther Shore, winner of the 2007 Milkweed National Fiction Prize.
The Farther Shore takes place in an unnamed desert country in which American forces are attempting to establish order through use of force. Six fictitious soldiers, among them the title character Joshua Stantz, become separated from their unit and must navigate a perilous journey back to an American-controlled position. Their situation requires more than soldierly fortitude: In a city beset with warring factions, all inured to the prospect of violent death, the young American recruits face bewildering and deadly events as they seek to evacuate. Outside the city, perils still loom—even the weather seems determined to kill them, and some of their own comrades prove untrustworthy. Confusion reigns, and Stanz cannot even console himself with patriotism or a sense of morality. His country's objective in this undeclared war is incomprehensible; his participation is nothing more than an immediate, moment-to-moment battle to stay alive. According to Uzodinma Iweala in the New York Times Book Review, "the strongest aspect of this novel is [Eck's] ability to bring us straight into the devastation, all its sights and sounds whirling around us as they whirl around Stanz and his comrades."
Eck was in his teens and early twenties when he served in the army. He began writing The Farther Shore years later while earning his master of fine arts degree at the University of Montana. By then his personal experiences had melded with all the reading he had done and with conversations he had with other soldiers. In an interview with Small Spiral Notebook contributor Cara Seitchek, Eck said he wanted to create a picture of war that would transcend any particular conflict or country. "I wanted it to be the story of Everywar, much in the same way we talk about the Everyman," he commented. "I wanted this novel to speak to a veteran of any war. It's a wonderful thing to watch as more and more people read the book and recognize why place is never mentioned." When asked how much of Joshua Stantz could be autobiographical, Eck admitted that his brother's name is Joshua but added that the events in The Farther Shore are less autobiographical than are the emotions Stantz feels. "I think the journey out of a war, the journey out of sadness and the hope for a safe journey home is a metaphor that rings true in all of us," he stated. Later in the same interview he concluded: "I would love to say that my novel is thinly veiled biography. People love that." However, he quickly added that the work is meant to evoke "emotions that are known to be true in all of us…. That's what I always aim for in my writing. That a story reads like a person's life. I write to find those moments that define a character, and through that, find those moments that define all of us."
A Kirkus Reviews critic cited The Farther Shore for its "painstaking, spirit-breaking, heart-wrenching details," adding that the novel is "a harrowing work." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Eck was able to "capture the physical and psychological disorientation of modern war." In Booklist, Donna Seaman stated she found Eck's prose "as solid as stone" and the plot line "authentic in its terror and tragedy."
In addition to being the 2007 National Milkweed Fiction Prize winner, The Farther Shore was one of three finalists for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers award. Cherie Parker described in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune the book's milieu as "a woozy, uncomfortable world of young lives on the cusp of death." According to Matthew Cheney in the Mumpsimus, the novel succeeds in its "Everywar" approach. "Ultimately, this is not a book about Africa at all, which is probably for the best," the critic wrote, "it's a book about a person caught by chaos, and chaos knows no geography, but settles wherever it can find some ground." In his Salon.com review, Stephen Elliott noted of The Farther Shore: "The writing is often beautiful. And modern war has probably never been so fully explored as in this small, relentless novel. Eck never panders. We are not asked to cry, only to go quietly along for the ride."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of The Farther Shore, p. 52.
Books, December 8, 2007, Alan Cheuse, "Somalia in Fiction: Matthew Eck's Novel Presents a First-person Account Colored with Gallows Humor," review of The Farther Shore, p. 9.
Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2007, Jennifer Reese, review of The Farther Shore, p. 131.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of The Farther Shore.
Library Journal, September 15, 2007, Joshua Cohen, review of The Farther Shore, p. 48.
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, October 8, 2007, Cherie Parker, "A Haunting Stroll through Dante's Somalia."
New York Times Book Review, November 25, 2007, Uzodinma Iweala, "A Soldier's Tale."
Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2007, review of The Farther Shore, p. 167; August 6, 2007, Judith Rosen, review of The Farther Shore, p. 42.
LitBlog Co-op,http://lbc.typepad.com/ (December 2, 2007), "Read This! The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck."
Literary Kicks,http://www.litkicks.com/ (December 10, 2007), Levi Asher, "An Interview with Matthew Eck."
Matthew Eck Home Page,http://mattheweck.com/ (June 8, 2008).
Milkweed Editions,http://www.milkweed.org/ (June 8, 2008), prize announcement.
Mumpsimus,http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/ (December 15, 2007), Matthew Cheney, review of The Farther Shore.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/books/ (October 22, 2007), Stephen Elliott, "How Hard Is It to Write Honestly about War?"
Small Spiral Notebook,http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (November, 2007), Cara Seitchek, "Cara Seitchek Interviews Matthew Eck, Author of The Farther Shore."