READERS TELL ALL.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS by Danielle Evans or, subtitle, The Writer Who Could Change the World and Make It Good, in a Way it Has Never Been, and Correct My Awkward Capitalization
If you asked Danielle Evans how we met, she might mention moonshine, goats, my driving skills (or lack of driving skills), and of course my reading her (almost drunkenly) my poem about Brittany Murphy, RIP. I would like to imagine I was in Baltimore, or wherever Danielle is currently, so we could hang out and she could explain the world to me. She's the kind of person who checks in on you, explains to you what a short story is and how to write it, and Danielle Evans is a fascinating writer, someone meant for success from the beginning. But how many authors can actually change the world? As far as primarily (or at least, very often described as something akin to) short story writers go, I can picture Alice Munro, maybe Roxane Gay, Maile Meloy, Claire Vaye Watkins, Kelly Link, Jhumpa Lahiri, and a handful of others. But Danielle. Guys. Danielle.
It's been about ten years since her first book, BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF (2010), came out. And thank God we finally have more, but fuck, now we have to wait for another ten years. I love Donna Tartt, do not get me wrong, but Danielle delivers in the way you actually expect someone who publishes another book in that span of time should write. And it's more than that. There's this crisp frankness to her prose, a distance but also extreme empathy she has with her characters and subjects, this undeniable way of looking at the world through a lens that is both completely her own and also something akin to a god. She is the house she moves around in, shaping a story and making it beautiful and real. There is no hesitation in reading her stories, or, God, the glamorous novella, which I stand by being possibly the best work of noir in this decade, and yes, I know the decade is just beginning. But God, she rips your heart out. Do you know how long I have tried to write this--what is this? A review? An altar made from words and love, this endless love I have for someone who I can never know or truly be friends with because honestly no one is on Danielle's level. She could tell me anything, and I would believe her. But luckily, everything she says is true, or poised in a way to make me think and find the truth for myself. Her work demonstrates not only her writing skills, but also how she makes Plato her bitch. Socrates would be lucky to get one word in. Maybe she could talk with Iris Murdoch but even Iris would bow down, bitches. Sorry, I had to include a sort of Beyonce reference. It is necessary.
What makes these stories so great? Can anyone say? It's so hard to define, mostly because if you are a writer, you read Danielle's books and cry once because she allows you this cathartic release of emotion, all emotions, but then she yet again allows you to cry in knowing that you can never write that well. Basically, every other writer publishing a book in 2020 is fucked, and there are very few who can live up to what she writes, and how she writes, and what it is she delivers. One story called "Boys Go to Jupiter" is stunning. She somehow completely removes herself, even as a godlike figure, even as a creator, and dares to go to a place no one else has gone (although many have tried): an attempt at understanding or explaining or whatever the fuck magic Danielle pulls off by writing about a white college student caught in a picture wearing a "Rebel flag" bikini (Confederate Flag, Racist Flag, pick your poison, it's all the same--I grew up in a place that called it a Rebel Flag, and if you didn't wear it, you were gay--and I very gay, and still am, thank God). Danielle writes from the girl's perspective, and we see where she's coming from even as we cringe and grind our teeth looking at this girl and wondering what she is doing, although we know what she is doing, and honestly wouldn't some of us make the same mistakes? Especially white people, all the people who look like me, who lay in tanning beds until they feel golden, who ask which FRIENDS character they might be, who say "Well, I know good Black people, and they aren't like that." The story is glorious in the way it evokes this awakening for white people in seeing a reflection of ourselves, and for once there is no judgement, but almost empathy for the people who have oppressed Black Americans and really every marginalized people, even some other white people if they are gay, women, poor, etc. As we see the girl make mistake after mistake, we judge her ourselves, and then Danielle drops the bomb.
She's so good.
There are so many brilliant stories in the book, one involving a dream wedding where the brides are gifted or tortured (choose how you want to look at this) with wearing one solid color the entirety of a weekend at a wedding--a rainbow wedding. In another story, a young woman works in a gift shop in an exact replica of a replica of the Titanic. Everything in the collection exists only through the life Danielle breathed into it, and yet the stories are so removed from her, pieces of genius you want to stretch on forever. We see everything, things we haven't been able to articulate because we haven't even formed these full thoughts. No one thinks like Danielle can, and that's why it's the best, and it's why you need to buy this book immediately. Like, right now.
The novella closing the collection--sharing the same title as the book--concerns a woman working a job where she corrects issues regarding history and race. I remember at Clemson with a sit in, protests, police, angry screams from everyone all over campus, and the horrifying bananas hanging from light poles and trees, all reminding us that; there is no America that is post-racism. As white people, we have not even begun to deal with the issue of our own racism, whether instilled in us and what we fight against every day, or what some other white people actively use to promote hate and destroy lives and belittle other Americans for so many reasons, and nothing ever justifying these actions. This novella is the greatest noir possibly since Dare Me by Megan Abbott. In "The Department of Historical Corrections," we see both a fracture friendship and a fractured country, although fractures imply that something as whole once, and we have to ask ourselves: has this country ever actually been entirely solid, and if so, when?
I can't think of anything. If you can, feel free to comment. I would love to hear from anyone reading this how this country was ever great--but I'm stealing lines from a Facebook post Danielle made years ago, noting that America was never actually great (if I remember right--Danielle, I'll have to look through screenshots, as you know I have them, but for now let's say she hypothetically said this, and in that way we don't hold her accountable for words I might just be putting in her mouth). Danielle's story reveals more twists and turns than a Gillian Flynn novel, and yet everything is effortless, heavy with the subject matter but overall so light it's like a cloud, like fog, everywhere, clouding you and making it hard to see anything but the truths Danielle is so kind to provide.
I don't want to give away too much. These are short stories and a novella after all. But I will say that even through multiple reads, I gasped out loud. I had to put the book down and take a few laps. I ate while reading the book. I attempted to walk on a treadmill while reading the book (after about a minute I stepped off and sat on a. weights bench and read the book). I would stay up all night reading the book, trying to find ways to stay awake so I could finish it one more time. Request the book at every library in your county, but also buy the book if you have it. Give as a Christmas present, and not just because we're facing issues involving race in the book (although please support indie bookstores owned by Black Americans). Give this book because it is the most entertaining book you'll read all year. Because you cannot stop reading once you start. Because you want to know how she is so young, but already more than the Alice Munro of America. She's the Danielle Evans of America. She is the top model (I saw her in I believe a dress that shimmered and was amazing--I don't know for sure if it was a dress, as I know there are different names for different outfits for women, whatever, I'm not that gay yet but am working toward getting there). I truly hope she will be a Nobel laureate one day. I hope she will win so many Pulitzers and all the other prizes out there as well. I hope Barack Obama will pick her as his favorite book of the year, and Reese Witherspoon, and Oprah, and Jenna from one of those morning talk shows.
Danielle, you are more than a queen. You're a goddess. You are my Moana, or my Cat Stevens (these are the only thing that make my nephew stop crying), you are the letters Flannery O'Connor wrote and I read in high school to feel less alone. You are a fountain of knowledge, and add something less cliche to that as well. You're the genius here. And to everyone, please know that I really only post about books like this in this way if I am absolutely obsessed with them, and I've been obsessed with this book for some time (that's right, I somehow got lucky enough to snag an ARC and read this amazing tour de force). This is a miniature tome, a spectacular opus, and I hope for more from Danielle soon, and I hope she will get all of the awards and grants so she can write and write and write. If you want twists, if you want screams, if you want laughter and tears, if you want moping and desire, read this book. Just know that Danielle is the funniest writer I know. The kindest writer I know. The most talented and wide-ranging author I know.
And I also include her over all the authors I don't know, too, although I'd really love to meet you Larry and Alice.
Below is a link to indie bound, but I also encourage you to go buy this book from your local indie bookstore, or support Black owned bookstores as well.
Danielle, this is sort of my love letter to you and your work. It's not nearly good enough, but I hope for now, it will suffice.
Buy below, buy everywhere, buy now: