Dusty's Reviews > A Fictional History of the United States

A Fictional History of the United States by T Cooper
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Dec 03, 08

bookshelves: read-in-2008
Read in December, 2008

This collection of short stories has a four-star concept. It presents 17 "counter-narratives" that expose "some of the moments and people left out of the textbooks". Or so the book's flap reads. The problem with a four-star concept, it seems, is that it has to be matched by four-star stories. Unfortunately, this is a wretchedly uneven assortment.

There are a few gems. Paul La Forge's "Discovery of America" sets a high bar with its poetic vignette-like retelling of eleven variations on the "discovery" theme. Was it Columbus who discovered the continent? Or was it the Basques, the Phoenicians or the Japanese? Alexander Chee continues this thread in "Wampeshau", which depicts a possible Chinese populating of North America that far preceded the 1400s, and although the story doesn't make a lot of sense, its prose is glorious. The best story in the book is probably Thomas O'Malley's "Resurrection Man", which details a kid living in the 80s who befriends a man, a former soldier (and presumably a former astronaut) who informs him that the landing on the moon was a government hoax. Science, history, conspiracy, humor, tenderness, mystery and surprise -- "Resurrection Man" has all that in spades.

The other stories, however ... fall short. In some cases, way short. Consider "West", written by Benjamin Weissman, which introduces us to a party of westward-trudging wagoneers who are both hypersexual and flippantly cannibalistic. Some of Weissman's images almost made me wretch when I read them (though, fortunately, I find that I remember more the sensation of wanting to wretch than the images themselves), and all for what? The story is completely devoid of purpose, of message. The author must've envisioned some kind of westward-expansion reality TV show: "Hey, how about we throw together a bunch of screwed-up maniacs who have to spend months together in a doomed wagon train?"

Finally, I feel I have to mention the title. A Fictional History Of The United States With Huge Chunks Missing. Now, I know no 17-story collection can possibly claim to rival the completeness of an American history textbook. But in a book whose self-stated purpose is to expose forgotten perspectives, shouldn't there be at least a story or two about the Native Americans? Or the black slaves? Or the Japanese internment camps? Some Chunks are a little too obvious in their Missing for my taste.
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