Ever since I finished reading The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans earlier this month, I have continued to think about it. Comprised of a series of short stories and a novella by the same name as the collection, this literary work is astounding and expertly crafted.
Two quotes give preface to this collection: one, by James Baldwin, and the other, by Lucille Clifton. Both these brilliant excerpts touch on the magnitude of history, and how historical events create the context into which we are born. Not only are they astute and poetic sentiments on their own, but they perfectly encapsulate the spirit of this work.
In the six stories that make up the bulk of this collection, Evans expertly fleshes out characters with vivid lives, detailed and nuanced dilemmas, and who occasionally make peculiar choices. A ruined wedding, distant family members attempting to reconnect over a trip to Alcatraz, a male celebrity on an apologizing tour, and a college student turned infamous by a viral photo of her donning a Confederate flag bikini are just some of the stories Evans has crafted.
But the real stand-out of this piece is the grand finale, the novella entitled “The Office of Historical Corrections.”
In this, narrator Cassie works for a department within Institute for Public History, commonly referred to as the Office of Historical Corrections. Cassie’s job is to correct false or misleading facts about history. For instance, if a sign in a cake shop contains false information about why a certain holiday is celebrated, Cassie types up the correction and prints a holographic note she then adheres to the sign. The department has several policy rules, such as not to be overly trifling about wording nor instigate arguments or fights. They are merely assigned to citing correct information when false information is posted to the public.
This story focuses on one particular case Cassie is assigned to investigate, which involves her traveling to Wisconsin to verify or disprove a correction made to a sign. New information has surfaced which may change their understanding of past events. A man previously assumed to have been killed in a burning building may have actually escaped alive. Interviewing descendants of involved individuals and digging through paperwork and photographs, Cassie may find out more than she had intended to discover.
Reading the journey upon which Cassie embarks is truly a meta experience. Although the Office of Historical Corrections does not exist in our modern American society, the contents of the story so astutely mirror our contemporary condition. Moreover, the nuance of the story is brilliant. One of its many themes is racial attitudes in the U.S., and while there is an extremist character with a shockingly direct alias which is anything but subtle, it is what is felt and understood between the lines of the story that speaks with greatest power. The extreme precision of her writing paired with her knowing and careful restraint… That is the genius of Evans.
While I enjoyed reading this entire collection, the novella is what truly stands out in my memory. If you only have time to read part of this piece rather than the whole, I highly recommend the novella section, “The Office of Historical Corrections,” which has too painfully and too precisely hit the nail right on the head. Astounding.
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