An extended meditation on family, history, and loss, American Histories is short story collection that weaves together historical fact, philosophical wisdom, and deeply personal autobiographical vignettes.
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.