Rather than speaking academically or in the abstract, however, the book's impressive roster of contributing authors push their pens toward the personal ... Delivered with varying shades of color and candor, these pieces form an anthology within an anthology — a gripping triptych of American displacement and transience ... As impactful as its essays are, the book's fiction and poetry lend it even more flesh and soul ... [Freeman's] introduction to the book is one of its most impassioned entries. In it, he observes how the act of walking through an American city with eyes wide open can radically expand our capacity for empathy, or as Freeman calls it, our 'bandwidth of care' — not to mention our resolve to work toward something better ... Poignant and profound, Tales of Two Americas is exactly such a framework — one that unites a multiplicity of voices into a powerful rallying cry.
The anthology examines what Freeman describes as 'a lurking feeling of displacement in America,' through thoughtfully arranged reflections on the way so many of us feel disconnected from ourselves, from others and from place ... a dazzling assemblage of emerging and established writers offers insights that are straightforward or subtle, but always compelling ... Each contribution stands out. Each voice is unique. The only common threads in the collection are theme and excellence ... This anthology is spectacular and devastating and provocative.
The book’s subtitle — Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation — sets out Freeman’s viewpoint clearly. The two Americas are privileged and poor, wealthy and worried, separated by race, class, ethnicity, geography, age and a list of other factors … Freeman hopes that ‘there is a bandwidth of care that still exists in America. One where people don’t give a hand just because it suits them but because it is the right thing to do — it is how we all get by.’ That attitude is sorely needed before America can be made great again. But anyone reading Tales of Two Americas may find it hard to believe it still exists.
Each entry focuses on the oppressed and the downtrodden—readers will find only one side of the 'two Americas' here. As a whole, the book is engagingly earnest and succeeds at highlighting the personal side of much-reported news stories on subjects such as disappearing jobs, police brutality, gentrification, and immigration policy. The book appears timed to respond with empathy to the anxieties revealed by the 2016 presidential election. The prose throughout is top quality, and readers drawn by the famous writers involved will also enjoy discovering authors previously unknown to them.
Authors of different classes and ethnicities, including Sandra Cisneros, Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oates, and Nami Mun, tell stories of depressing circumstances, but also as bases of connection, strengthened by an unwavering core of hope … While the anthology showcases many strong pieces of writing, reading through it can be a challenge. Totaling 320 pages, the subject matter can be emotionally daunting if not read in moderation. In addition, sometimes less is more: 36 pieces are featured in the anthology; yet, its overall themes and scope could have possibly been achieved with 24, even 18 strong pieces … Tales of Two Americas successfully puts readers into the shoes of its varied characters so that they may come away with a better understanding of their divided situations and the hope that our nation can rectify itself in the future.
There’s neither glossy escapism nor gritty dystopian metaphor here. Tales of Two Americas is instead committed to a realistic portrayal of the differences between those with easy access to America’s opportunities and those without ... There is so much excellent writing in the pages of Tales of Two Americas. Yet because an anthology is the sum of its parts, I can’t help but see American inequality on display in the contributors’ notes, too, or rather in whom those notes don’t include...Largely absent from the table of contents are those who are currently writing from outside the literary establishment — which offers opportunity, if not always a comfortable salary — even if many of the writers originally hail from humble backgrounds ... I raise this point not to head-count the anthology’s representation nor to criticize Freeman’s work, and certainly not to cast aspersions on the authenticity of the perspectives represented, but to ask a bigger question. Who is this book for? To this reader, the effect is one America — the poorer one — being translated for the intended readers. Which is also not to say that translation isn’t a primary function of literature, but I think of how much more powerful this collection could be if the translation went both ways.
While these parameters seem broad, Freeman’s mandate is fulfilled by the uniformly high quality of the contributors. Most address the topic obliquely, avoiding bombast in favor of grounded social narrative or the perspective offered by formative experience ... Urgent, worthy reportage from our fractious, volatile social and cultural moment.