Review of The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
There is so much to unpack here; Evans's story themes are often haunting, always powerful, and wonderfully nuanced.
She thought the insistence on victims without wrongdoers was at the base of the whole American problem, the lie that supported all the others.
In The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans offers short stories centering around themes of race, relationships, identity, the fallibility of those shaping historical "fact," grief, and loss. She beautifully and powerfully illustrates essential, deep truths by tracing moments in her characters' everyday lives.
In "Happily Ever After" the main character faces the possibility of not being able to have a biological child. In a heartbreaking scene, she dresses up to see the doctor, hoping to use this armor of nice clothing to stave off the news she dreads hearing. Tell me what you would tell a white woman, her face said. A white woman with money, her clothes said. Please, her tone said.
In Evans's story "Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain," Rena, a war correspondent, attends the wedding of a friend made during a long-ago crisis. The bride's suspicion about the nature of their relationship, the groom's reticence to commit, and the reporter's painful personal history all add layers of complication to the situation. In thinking through a tragedy that befell her family at the hands of someone they knew, Rena reflects:
All of her adult life people have asked Rena why she goes to such dangerous places, and she has always wanted to ask them where the safe place is. The danger is in chemicals and airports and refugee camps and war zones and regions known for sex tourism. The danger also sometimes took the trash out for them. The danger came over for movie night and bought them a popcorn maker for Christmas. The danger hugged her mother and shook her father’s hand.
In "Boys Go to Jupiter," a young woman wears a gifted confederate flag bikini, is careless about her actions, doubles down in order to have something to stand for, and questions who she would be without the conflict, without a fight.
In "Alcatraz," characters count on officially changing the erroneous facts of their family's history and pin hopes for reconciliation on a new chapter of the story, but they must face that their messy reality persists. Race and the meanings attached to it threaten to divide their family forever.
"Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want" focuses on an artist and the many people he has wronged (all of whom but his daughter are reduced to generic titles revolving around their experiences together, without their names). The artist makes elaborate apologies which may be a media stunt. Through the artist's gimmicky attempts to try to move on, the story shows the limitations of an apology after harm is done.
In "Anything Could Disappear," the main protagonist feels desperation, hoping fo new beginnings and a reinvention of self. Her plan is shifted by the arrival of another person she feels she must care for, at which point she tries on another identity by taking advantage of others’ assumptions. She breaks her own heart by doing the right thing.
In the longest story in the book, at approximately 100 pages, "The Office of Historical Corrections," a black student from Washington, DC, finds herself involved in unraveling a complicated historical mystery that extends over generations and involves her closest friendship and shakes the basis of her career. Evans explores what is accepted as truth, as fact, and as history, as well as who has the power to shift that narrative--and at what cost.
That my country might always expect me to audition for my life I accepted as fact...
It was the winter after the most depressing election of my adult life, a low point for my faith in the polis, and I had started keeping an unofficial tally in my head of how much I trusted each new white person I met. It was a pitiful tally, because I had decided most of them would forgive anyone who harmed me, would worry more about local anti-racism ruining the holiday party season and causing the cheese plate to go to waste then about the lives and sanity of the non-white humans in their midst.
The themes here are often haunting, always powerful, and wonderfully nuanced, even when the scenes (the artist's exhibition, the actual on-the-spot printed and posted corrections of "fact," and others) take metaphors to their limits.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Evans is also the author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, which I definitely want to read. I mentioned this book (along with Boy Swallows Universe and Goodnight Beautiful) in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 2/9/21 Edition.