A novel that chronicles 170 years of American nation-building from numerous points-of-view across place and time, and explores the Great American Experiment from its formative days to the present moment and asks whether or not our nation has made good on its promises.
Evison's Small World features some of the standard elements of a disaster plot ... But Evison complicates and enriches the narrative by providing not only a back story for each of his passengers, but a historical explanation for why each of them are here. In many ways, his characters represent archetypical stories, but they are infused with humanity in his capable hands ... By setting his characters in an American epic, Evison reminds readers that all of us are descended from those who endured hard times ... It is a rich inheritance, and Evison's telling of those stories is riveting.
Evison’s characters are distinctive and the plot is well paced. Depictions of the sibling ache between the separated twins Nora and Finn Bergen (Walter’s ancestors), the survivor’s guilt of Wu and the longing Jenny has for a connection to her parents are deeply felt ... The novel is easy to love in part because it deals in generosity and hope. Part of the reading experience will hinge on how much evidence one needs to believe in humanity’s capacity for altruism ... The lives of Evison’s characters require action, and this need — to act now and fast — along with the cast’s size, poses the hazard of skimming from their interiority ... Jess Row aptly argues in 'White Flights' that many white novelists place their stories in diverse cities, but conveniently omit people of color from their cast. Evison does not omit, and the novel is more expansive because of it, but at times I wished to know more about the characters’ internal lives, the details and contexts outside of the immediate plot ... Small World is ambitious, showing our interconnectedness across time, place and cultures. What happens on the day of potential tragedy is revealed slowly throughout the book. I wanted to know the conclusion to every character’s story line so much that I wasn’t too concerned with how Walter’s train went awry. The final pages, earnest and direct, chance the sentimental, which might be the riskiest move of all.
Evison has published a string of superb novels...so it is thrilling to see the talent, ambition, and execution coalesce in this masterpiece ... Each character displays the fierce fortitude and stubborn resilience that define the American spirit. The sweeping panorama is the perfect canvas on which Evison explores the diversity of the nation’s character while limning contours and adding textures to bring to vivid life his memorable characters. Such masterful strokes seem to qualify Small World as the quintessential Great American Novel as Evison eloquently shows that perhaps the most authentically American ideal is the ongoing, blended palette of stories.