Reviewed by Allie Corfman
This collection of seven short stories gives insight into the hearts of various characters through the heart touching dialogue and events. The characters sound and feel real. Readers can easily see themselves in the characters. Based on the title, I was expecting these stories to be political, and they were not so much about politics as they were about humanity. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as I believe good short stories should not preach a specific agenda, but rather reflect truths about humanity about which the readers are left to form opinions. This author brilliantly tells the stories of characters that are so real and down to earth that I felt like I knew these characters personally.
Throughout these stories, the readers begin to feel what the characters are feeling as they can see the world through their eyes. There are several key quotes in the stories that encompass the overall feel of the collection. One of these quotes came when a producer chose a young black girl over her white co-worker for a background role. “They must have wanted diversity or something,” the co-worker said. This comment stung, and as a reader I could feel what the character must have felt when she heard those words—the feeling that her work, success, and talent would always be viewed as valuable just because of it offering diversity rather than having value in and of itself.
Some of the stories also seek to encompass an opposing point of view, revealing how people can cause pain even when they do not mean to. This happens when one character, Claire, is given a confederate flag swimsuit. A picture of her wearing it is posted on social media and goes viral. She did not wear the swimsuit to make a statement, and she was clearly not aware of the offense that would be taken. She worries about her best friends from her childhood and wonders if they saw the post. Her best friends and neighbors growing up were black. It had been years since she had interacted with them. A tragedy had caused them to drift apart. Now, as she is faced with this unexpected attention around her swimsuit, memories of her time with them come rushing back. Meanwhile, a girl on her dorm floor expresses her feelings at having seen the viral post. Claire feels indignant and leaves her a note that she finds funny, but the recipient finds it offensive. Pretty soon Claire is seen as a threat and her note as an act of hate.
The main character really did not intend for the post to go viral or to threaten anyone, but the author makes it clear why her actions were perceived as they were. The main character digs her heels in when faced with pressure, and some conservative groups on campus come to her aid. Instead of admitting that she never intended any harm, she decides to stand her ground and pretend that she is deeply committed to her southern upbringing. This story reveals how political tension can shape people and the way that people can become further polarized because of ignorance and social media. It also comments on humility and reveals how a little humility can bring people together while arrogance drives us farther apart.
Other stories focus on the generational effect racism has had in the United States. In the story “Alcatraz,” the reader can see through the eyes of several generations of black women to understand how racism had affected the characters and marked their lives. It is a story of pain and reconciliation, and it reveals how pain and experience can carry from one generation to the next.
The final story in this collection is a novella after which the collection was named. “The Office of Historical Corrections” comments on the accuracy of history and how history is told differently depending on who is telling the story. The story reveals how the way we see the world is often subjective, and trying to correct objective facts proves difficult when everyone sees those facts differently.
Overall, the stories in this collection are political and opinionated, but certainly not dogmatic. They are inquisitive and open, presenting a variety of worldviews to consider. The characters appear to be based on real people, whose perspectives the author seems to understand well enough to portray them through various characters throughout the collection.
For similar stories, check out Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher. His take on the world and politics is similar, even though his voice gives a different perspective. You may also enjoy works by Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston for further works of literature written by black American women.