Updated: Jul 2
Essay/short story/novella is a new to me genre so I did not hesitate to select The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans when it showed up as a Book of the Month choice. I actually found myself enjoying it more than I expected. I read one short story each evening before bed and gave myself some reflection time. I enjoyed some stories more than others and felt like the novella could have been a complete novel if the author wanted, but I found it brilliant how the author encapsulated so much in 100 pages.
Quick synopsis: The Office of Historical Corrections is a collection of short stories, finished with the title novella. Each story encapsulates race and history in the US in a different way. Coming down to the simple terms of what is the true history of our nation and who is responsible to correct it?
The short stories are:
Happily Ever After: (I was neutral on this one.) A famous popstar decides that a troupe-y Titanic themed convention center is the perfect location for her next music video and asks that the gift shop attendant be in the video.
Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain: (I was neutral on this one.) A young couple is slotted to get married, when the groom leaves the bride at the alter and the groom's friend tries to help the bride locate him.
Boys Go to Jupiter: (Second favorite.) A young, white, college student finds herself in hot water when a picture of her in a confederate flag bikini goes viral on social media.
Alcatraz: (My favorite.) A daughter helps her mother correct the falsehoods associated with her grandfather's incarceration in Alcatraz.
Why Won't Women Just Say What They Want: (I was neutral on this one, but probably my least favorite.) An artist puts together an exhibit where he goes on an apology tour to all the women he wronged in his past.
Anything Could Disappear: (Third favorite.) A young, Black woman finds herself taking in a missing toddler who no one seems to be searching for, while trying to establish her life.
Each one touches on elements of race and white washed history in the US, ranging from microaggressions to the most obvious forms of violent racism perpetuated by white supremacists. Each story is quite different from the last, but comes down to the basic premise of when faced with racism, do you either face it head on or turn your head and ignore it. Essentially, do you combat the past or do you contribute to its continuum. I found the stories about Alcatraz housing innocent prisoners and the female college student who posted a picture of herself on social media in a confederate flag bikini some of the most interesting and thought provoking stories. The ending novella, The Office of Historical Corrections, is an almost futuristic depiction of the government's involvement on "correcting" US history. The main character works for this government agency and is assigned to go to a small, Wisconsin town, where in the 1930's, a building owned by a Black man was burned down and he allegedly died in the fire. One of her colleagues corrects that information, by adding the names of the white individuals who bragged about participating in the fire. What unfolds was beyond interesting and had me turning the pages up until the bitter end. The aspects of "Midwest nice" contributing to racism and is a form of silent gaslighting was something that, as a native Midwesterner and Wisconsin resident, really hit home with me and made me do some self reflection.
Overall, The Office of Historical Corrections is a great addition to your reading list and if you are new to short story/essay type books, I encourage you to give it a try! I found it to be a new genre that I will read more of in the future.
Content warnings: racism (including violent scenes), death, incarceration
"She thought the insistence on victims without wrongdoers was at the base of the whole American problem, the lie that supported all the others."
"Midwest nice was a steady, polite gaslighting I found sinister, a forced humility that prevented anyone from speaking up when they'd been diminished or disrespected, lest they be labeled an outsider."