“My father and I saw each other only three times before he died.”
This collection is modeled, according to the introduction by Victor LaValle, on the structure and spirit of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which, among other things, has always invited a lot of reaction and response. If you look at your local library or on Amazon, and especially in bargain bins of books, you will find a handful of reactionary Right-wing reversions of the text called things like “A Patriot’s History…” or “The REAL People’s…”–that kind of thing. It’s not that dissimilar from the ways in which James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me has a similar set of reactionary copier. Cough cough 1776 project cough cough.
This book is different of course, because it’s still a response to Zinn’s book, but one that asks, what will the people’s future look like, and given that a book of predictions might be interesting but limited, fiction seems the better place. And of course Victor LaValle is a fiction writer, so that also makes sense.
What follows is a collections of short stories and one excerpt from a novel that tries to think on the next 50 or so years of American future and provide a story in that setting. The stories tend to be bleak or grim at times, which makes sense, but the best of them understand the task that even if the future is bleak, people will still be looking at ways of not only surviving, but managing, to the best they can, to carve out meaningful lives. For me the best of the stories here try to capture that very constant human spirit. I can’t imagine a time where the future didn’t ever really look bleak if you were looking at it from the perspective of underclasses marginal voices, but that doesn’t mean the literature has ever really strayed from looking for ways to engage with the idea of a real life.
Like all collections that solicit submissions on a theme, there’s good and not so good here. And worst you might get here is a reading list of new authors to check out. And an oddity here is that the book just precedes the pandemic, so it’s kind of refreshingly empty of two dozen Covid stories, which is nice.