It Occurs to Me That I Am America
It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art
Edited by Jonathan Santlofer
I wanted to like this book so badly. I was so excited to dive in when it was released a few weeks ago. A collection of fiction and art themed around a liberal and timely political message? Yes, please. Here is how the publisher describes the anthology:
When Donald Trump claimed victory last November, the US literary world erupted in indignation. Many of America’s leading writers and artists openly resist the current administration’s dogma and earliest policy moves, and they’re not about to go gently into that good night. In It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art, more than thirty of the most acclaimed modern writers consider the fundamental ideals of a free, just, and compassionate democracy—through fiction.
My very high expectations were affirmed as I began reading an inspired introduction from Viet Thanh Nguyen, who remarks:
Rather than making America great again, we should help America love again.
But as I continued reading, my expectations for enjoying each story decreased. When I finally finished, I was shocked to find that I hated a collection from such a distinguished group of authors, many of whom I already love. There were a few shining exceptions, but most of the contributions felt gimicky. If pressed for a rating of the overall anthology, I would average them out to two stars. Approximately 80% were 2-stars or less, 15% were 3-stars, and 5% were 4-stars.
Intersections by Mark Di Ionna stood out as my favorite. I found this short story to be a very realistic humanization of immigration law from the perspective of a criminal defense attorney. It’s a touching story of love and forgiveness, but the story raises important questions regarding the deportation of criminals – a policy that on its face seems uncontroversial. What could be more justified than the deportation of individuals who do not follow the rules of our society? In practice, the pain caused by such a broad and ill-advised policy is arbitrary.
For me, the final straw was White Baby by James Hannaham. I am still angry about it a few days later and would give it NEGATIVE 5-stars. Without too much of a spoiler, it started out a very apt commentary about race featuring a black couple who had requested to adopt a white baby. The story concluded as one of the most unnecessarily grotesque things I have ever read. Cheap and insensitive. Like being tricked into watching a snuff video clip in the credits of an otherwise good film. Ugh.
I am very disappointed to give this book a “no rec.” I was so excited based on the theme. There are a few excellent selections, but they are not worth perusing through the bulk of clichéd, attention-seeking, unoriginal tripe.