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by Danielle Evans

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-59448-733-0
Publisher: Riverhead

The author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (2010) looks at loss, relationships, and race in America in short fiction and a novella.

A summary of the first story in this collection might go like this: Lyssa, a woman working in the gift shop of a Titanic-themed attraction, gets a small part in a music video. That covers the bare bones of the plot, but it offers no insight into what “Happily Ever After” is really about: It’s Lyssa losing her mother to cancer, and it’s how being Black shapes—and contorts—experiences in which race most likely seems irrelevant to people who aren’t Black. Most of the pieces in this volume have a similar shape. Regardless of what the story is ostensibly about, it’s also about race because there is no escaping or eliding race. Evans writes about injustices large and small with incredible subtlety and, often, wry wit. “Boys Go to Jupiter” is a standout, largely because it feels so timely. When a boy she’s hooking up with posts a photo of her wearing a Confederate-flag bikini on social media, Claire becomes a viral villain and a pariah at her small Vermont college. On the defensive, Claire goes from being clueless to willfully obtuse and ignorantly hurtful. Scenes from her past add depth and complexity while leaving the reader to decide how these revelations affect their understanding of this character. The eponymous novella that closes the book is a stunner. Cassie works at the Institute for Public History, a federal agency designed to address “the contemporary crisis of truth.” It’s her job to correct the historical record, whether that means correcting a tourist who’s getting their facts wrong or amending a bakery’s advertisement for a Juneteenth cake. When her boss asks her to look into the work of another field agent, Cassie steps back into her own past and into a murder mystery that might not involve a murder. To say much more would only detract from storytelling that is gripping on every level.

Necessary narratives, brilliantly crafted.