on November 10, 2020
Published by Riverhead Books
The award-winning author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self brings her signature voice and insight to the subjects of race, grief, apology, and American history.
Danielle Evans is widely acclaimed for her blisteringly smart voice and x-ray insights into complex human relationships. With The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters' lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history. She introduces us to Black and multiracial characters who are experiencing the universal confusions of lust and love, and getting walloped by grief--all while exploring how history haunts us, personally and collectively. Ultimately, she provokes us to think about the truths of American history--about who gets to tell them, and the cost of setting the record straight.
In "Boys Go to Jupiter," a white college student tries to reinvent herself after a photo of her in a Confederate-flag bikini goes viral. In "Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain," a photojournalist is forced to confront her own losses while attending an old friend's unexpectedly dramatic wedding. And in the eye-opening title novella, a black scholar from Washington, DC, is drawn into a complex historical mystery that spans generations and puts her job, her love life, and her oldest friendship at risk.
Short story collections are truly hit or miss for me. Either I absolutely adore them (How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, Ghost Summer) or I can’t get into them at all. I grabbed this collection from the library based on a recommendation from a tweet.
As soon as I heard that the novella in this collection was about a government agency that made corrections to historical markers I was in. I want to have a job where I go around and fix incorrect apostrophes on signs. A girl can dream, right? Anyway, I downloaded this book and read it all in one day.
I think part of the reason I don’t always get into short stories is that they never feel finished to me. They always seem to leave off somewhere in the middle of a thought instead of having a good conclusion. The stories here did that too but I was drawn in by her use of language and her ideas. I’m not usually a person to like lyricism over plot but this is an exception.
Happily Ever After
I think this first story is one of the weakest. It is about a person who works at a Titanic replica in the gift shop who gets cast in a music video.
Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain
This is a story of a wedding weekend that goes very wrong and the people who get caught up in it.
“In her line of work, it was sometimes helpful not to be immediately identified as an American, to be, in name and appearance, ethnically ambiguous, although her actual background—Black and Polish and Lebanese—was alchemy it had taken the country of her birth to make happen.”
Boys Go To Jupiter
This is an interesting story of a white woman who gets called out online for wearing a Confederate bikini and then things get worse when she defends herself. Is she right or wrong is left open to interpretation.
What happens after the thing that you have focused your life around is over? What comes next? It also dives into what makes a family.
Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want?
This was one of my favorites. A famous male artist decides to apologize the all the women he’s harmed in his life – and there have been a lot. But what is the true point of his apologies? I loved all the women in this. Their reactions were so true to life.
“The Model/Actress knew: the volcano was dangerous because he’d never actually expected to be in it. He had always counted on being good enough in the end. He had counted on absolution. He had counted on love. “Thank you,” he was going to say when everyone was appeased, while he stood on the platform and dramatically revealed the volcano’s violent core. “Your generosity tonight has saved my life again.” He thought the Forgiveness was his to declare. It was right there in the title.”
Anything Could Disappear
A young woman is left with a toddler on a cross country bus ride and she decides to keep him.
The Office of Historical Corrections
This is the novella about the government agency. A woman is called on to travel to Wisconsin to try to rein in a rogue ex-coworker.
“She corrected every memorial to lynching, every note about burnt schoolhouses and destroyed business districts, murdered leaders and bombed churches, that failed to say exactly who had done it. She thought the insistence on victims without wrongdoers was at the base of the whole American problem, the lie that supported all the others.”
“The problem is everyone, even Black people, believes that Black poverty is the worst poverty in the world, and Black urban poverty, forget it, and all urban Blackness always scans as poverty, which means people only love us as fetish. No one is sentimental about poor Black people unless they’re wise and country and you could put a photograph of them on a porch with a quilt behind them in a museum. There’s always a white person out there who wants to overpronounce a foreign word, or try an exotic food, or shop for crafts, but no one wants to do that for Black folks.”
“…you know how white people love their history right up until it’s true.”
Each story was thought provoking. Even if the story itself didn’t entirely work for me there was a small insight in each one that struck me.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: