BookBrowse Reviews The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

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The Office of Historical Corrections

A Novella and Stories

by Danielle Evans

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans X
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2020, 288 pages

    Nov 2021, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Nichole Brazelton
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About this Book



A story collection about contemporary life, the complexities of race and racism, and relationships built and lost in the tumult and trauma of a society facing a reckoning with its distant, and not-so-distant, past.

In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers are given a revelatory look at injustice, forgiveness, identity and history. With each story, Evans reveals the realities of present-day America, focusing in particular on the experiences of Black women in a country that considers whiteness the standard.

This collection contains six short stories along with the titular novella, a piece that challenges American narratives stemming from a colonial and racist past. Within its 104 pages, readers are introduced to Cassie and Genevieve (Genie), who at one point both worked for the Institute for Public History, a government agency tasked with correcting historical inaccuracies. The two women were often at odds with each other and eventually Genevieve was fired, while Cassie remained to continue her work with the organization. The revisions made by IPH agents are not always well received, and when Cassie is sent out on an assignment to correct something Genevieve was responsible for, she finds out how dangerous the job can be. As she uncovers the true story behind the death of a Black shopkeeper in 1937, she inadvertently draws out anger and violence from a radical white "preservationist."

It would be easy to assume that the novella is the highlight of the book, with the preceding stories serving as mere preludes, but this assumption would be inaccurate. While the novella is certainly memorable and arresting, the short stories stand alone as prescient, unique literary revelations of mortality, desire and other aspects of the human condition. From "Boys Go to Jupiter," an account of a thoughtless white college student who faces the consequences of donning a Confederate-flag bikini in rebellion against her stepmother, to a twisted tale of male ego and the objectification of women in "Why Won't Women Just Say What They Want," each story follows overarching themes of apology, correction and grief with its own distinctive narrative.

In particular, "Anything Could Disappear" feels as full as a novel despite being only 30 pages long. In this story, we meet Vera, a young woman who is looking for escape but instead finds herself in charge of a child and part of the illegal underground workings of a New York courier service. At her core, Vera is driven to do the "right" thing, even as she struggles to define what that is, and even as she is often tripped up by impulsivity and the desire to be accepted. Her journey from a neglected Missouri girl to a woman on the lam challenges assumptions of race and morality while presenting clear, touching examples of love and commitment.

Throughout the collection, Evans' writing is honest and nuanced, sometimes revealing a wryness — almost a dark wit — that comes close to toppling into cynicism but never does. This quality is present in "Happily Ever After," where readers are introduced to Lyssa, who is faced with life on her own after losing her mother to ovarian cancer (see Beyond the Book). Lyssa is a sharp-minded, competent woman fighting to be seen as more than a token, a prop in a white world. Often, she must fight to be seen at all. This is especially true during her mother's battle with cancer, as Lyssa experiences microaggressions and assumptions from doctors. She feels the pressure of the standards Black women must meet in order to receive equal, respectful care in the medical system.

In each story, the author shows herself to be a master of lyricism and tightly woven text, exercising the ability to write with a perfect balance of soft, inviting prose and razor-sharp commentary on adversity, trauma and pain. With their urgency, these stories bring present-day anxieties to the surface without ever becoming predictable. Evans' literary touch successfully reveals the (typically unacknowledged) cost of troublesome expectations and ideals surrounding reconciliation and redemption as defined by a society that refuses to own its brutal past.

Through fully developed, complex characters, she navigates the tensions layered within women's relationships to each other, as well as the fraught relationships women (especially Black women) have with racism, classism, sexism, invisibility outside of stereotypes and society in general. Readers who enjoy short story collections, and likely even those who do not typically read short stories, will find themselves satisfied and fulfilled by The Office of Historical Corrections.

Reviewed by Nichole Brazelton

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2021, and has been updated for the November 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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