With the scrupulous intelligence and meditative intensity that define all this author’s work, the stories move from subjects like the Civil War and Nat Turner’s rebellion to Mr. Wideman’s family’s tribulations, the two threads twining so intricately that they’re impossible to separate ... Mr. Wideman’s explicit subject is racial injustice but his treatment of it quietly deepens into existential horror ... This, then, is not a book for the unwary. Mr. Wideman possesses a true and terrible vision of the tragic.
Race and its reverberations are at the core of this slim, powerful volume, a blend of fiction, memoir, and reimagined history, in which the boundaries between those forms are murky and ever shifting ... There’s a loneliness in Wideman’s writing, a palpable sense of onliness in the cool intellectual distance he keeps whether he’s writing autobiographically or cloaking himself in fiction. The dispassion is interesting, understandable, but also an obstacle: a barrier meant to keep people out.
Laced together, the stories in American Histories read like an immense jazz riff. The writing is fractured; words are excised, reflecting vernacular speech patterns and also Wideman’s aim of getting more quickly to the truth ... Like a negative yet to be printed, characters yearn for the possibility of an alternative history. They’re stripped naked emotionally ... The acutely immersive world of American Histories is irresistible, and these profoundly moving stories will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.
Wideman puts us on notice: Wherever we’re going with him, we’re going to engage with America’s unhealed wounds of slavery and racism — and it’s not going to be comfortable or easy ... All are illumined by a searching intelligence and a willingness to test the boundaries of the short story form ... I found the digressiveness of this collection frustrating at times — it’s not a likable or easily accessible book. But in this case, that’s not a criticism. American Histories is not here to be liked. It’s here to challenge you. And that it does.
...an important addition to Mr. Wideman’s body of writing and a remarkable demonstration of his ability to address social issues through a range of fictional forms and styles ... The form works well for Mr. Wideman, highlighting his interest in modernist collage and emphasizing the incredible range of material in his fiction ... Like all fiction, Mr. Wideman’s work can’t redeem or overcome these conditions. But maybe it can suggest something about who we might be without them.
Wideman’s shape-shifting, lyrical narratives offer mesmerizing and challenging perspectives on the creative process and the black experience, decisively affirming his stature as a major voice in American literature.
You might, in other words, find this collection to be all over the place, and yet all of these pieces are linked by astringent wit, audacious invention, and a dry sensibility ... Wideman’s recent work strides into the gap between fiction and nonfiction as a means of disclosing hard, painful, and necessary truths.
Wideman boldly subverts notions of what a short story can be in this wonderful collection ... Each story feels new, challenging, and exhilarating, beguilingly combining American history with personal history.