A collection of fanciful forays into a vibrant century of American history, juxtaposing an analyst's self-absorbed search for inspiration and a more natural, spontaneous approach--from story- writer Garber (Metaphysical Tales, 1981--not reviewed), winner of TriQuarterly's William Goyen Prize for Fiction for 1992. Each piece here details an adventure undertaken either by an eminently objective historian in his obsessive pursuit of Clio, the Muse of history, who will unlock for him the mysteries and patterns behind civilization in America; or by his earthier cousin Simms, who chooses to live his moments directly, an integral part of whatever social fabric he happens to weave himself into. Ageless and purposeful--whether dueling with an implacable foe on the New Mexican frontier in 1875 (in a comic snowball fight that quickly turns deadly) or ambling backward in time to a Connecticut River Valley community in 1807 in order to help harness the powers of nature by constructing a mill (and successfully courting a woman thought to be untameable)--Simms is a man embracing the world wholeheartedly--to such a degree that he appears at times to have been transformed into a bear. In contrast, the historian, with his vast knowledge and more refined sensibilities, seeks answers from visionary women in New York and Pittsburgh at the height of the Industrial Age. They share their compelling visions with him eagerly, but when the ensuing sensory overload threatens his objectivity, he retreats, becoming finally a bystander whose passivity best serves the masculine forces unleashed in America by capitalism and commerce. Historically vivid and inventive, yet plagued by plunges from storytelling into a mire of prolonged rumination, where the fantasy seems forced and academic.