According to the introduction, the stated goal of this anthology of short fiction is: "to move beyond the obvious and the canonical: to challenge, tease, and expand upon the hegemonic single-narrative of mainstream American history." The editors go on to invoke Howard Zinn's classic "People's History of the United States", and wind things up by describing the seventeen stories as "riveting, inventive, timeless, funny, and... politically vital." Indeed, the blurb on the back cover advises the reader to "be prepared to experience American history in an entirely new way." With this kind of of buildup, it's not surprising that while there are some nice highlights, the overall anthology is somewhat of a letdown. I definitely believe that fiction can be used to explore history, and I'm all for hearing the unheard voice, but the seventeen stories are often only tangentially related to compelling themes of U.S. history, and are so clustered within the last hundred years that the vital broader perspective is lacking.
As with all anthologies, different readers will have different favorites. Stories I liked a lot: Paul La Farge's riffs on who really "discovered" America, David "Get Your War On" Rees' 2-page visual contribution on the poll tax, Felica Luna Lemus' take on the 1937 Woolworth's strike in Detroit, Ron "Born on the 4th of July" Kovic's brief satire of military recruiting at high schools, Valerie Miner's flashback look at the McCarthy era in suburban Seattle. Stories I liked bits of: Alexander Chee's riff on Gavin Menzies' controversial book "1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America", Kate Bornstein's pastiche about how Huckleberry Finn became a transvestite prostitute, Neal Pollack's satire of contemporary media mores at the time of the Lewinisky affair. Stories I didn't care for: everything else. I like the premise of this collection, but few of the contributors really deliver the goods.
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