Apalache Critical Essays

Paul Metcalf


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In Apalache, Paul Metcalf attempts to re-create North American history in a sweeping epic style. One of the techniques that Metcalf uses to create that epic is to show the interaction of the past and the present. In his book’s epigraph, Metcalf quotes Ken Kesey on the processes of change: “. . . the reverberation often exceeds through silence the sound that sets it off; the reaction occasionally outdoes by way of repose the event that stimulated it; and the past not uncommonly takes a while to happen. . . .” The reverberations that Metcalf traces in this book range from the long, natural epochs of prehistory, through the extended migrations of the Indians, to the relatively short and destructive era of the white man in America. The book might be called a revision and a restructuring of American history in the broadest manner possible, as it traces the reverberations of one event and one people upon another.

The book has an impressive historical span, and Metcalf uses a combination of history, journals, scientific texts, newspaper articles, myths, and poetry to create an encyclopedic vision of the land of Apalache and its people. He uses a factual or documentary rather than a traditional fictional or poetic method; he uses historical records, pamphlets, and documents rather than speaking in his own voice, but the result is no less imaginative. Metcalf includes an extensive bibliography of the sources he uses in each chapter; most of the books and pamphlets he cites seem to be from the nineteenth century. It is clear that he prefers these earlier voices to modern “objective,” and...

(The entire section is 660 words.)