Welcome back to Nerdette Book Club! This month’s pick is The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans. It’s a funny and expertly crafted new collection of short stories from the award winning author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.
Listen to our spoiler-free discussion of the book with Danielle herself! And be sure to come back later this month for a spoiler-filled conversation with our distinguished panel. And don’t forget: we want to hear from you too! Record your thoughts about the collection and send an audio file to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On What A Short Story Can Do
I love short stories. I really love a collection because often you’re writing about something that you don’t have a clear answer on, and a collection allows you to ask the same question over and over again and answer it different ways. I think you can see a writer thinking about something and not necessarily figuring it out.
I also like when a story has a kind of density. The people who I admire most in the form are Alice Munro and Edward P. Jones who are just magicians with time. There’s just the right amount of the future or just the right amount of the past that the story feels like being alive. It feels like in any given moment, something intense is happening that’s capturing your attention, but there’s also all of this history that the characters are carrying into that moment and these slight flashes of what it’s all going to mean.
On Writing About Structural Power
It’s complicated to be a writer who’s interested in story and character and also one who is interested in writing about structural power. It’s easy to write a story in which people don’t have choices, and there are many stories where the tragedy is lack of choice. But our moral investment in fiction comes from feeling like people are making choices, so there can be a tension there.
You want something to engage the reader in the way that a movie might when there’s that moment that makes them yell, “Don’t go into the basement!” You want people to root for your characters or against their decisions. But you also want to acknowledge that the world is not made up of infinite choices, and, depending on your position, it may be made of very few.
On The Stakes Of Historical Accuracy
You know there’s a part of it I don’t understand. What is the value of being a racist and insisting on not being called a racist? Increasingly, I think the value is in being able to make a declaration about reality. It’s not about the name; it’s about the naming. Who gets to do the naming.
That’s what I’ve arrived at. Because there are people who have beliefs that they’re not actually ashamed of, but they don’t want those beliefs called what they are. And isn’t that just a structural power relationship? Like, “I get to tell you what words mean.” It’s not about cognitive dissonance. It’s just about power.
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.