The Historian: Six Fantasies of the American Experience Summary

Eugene K. Garber

The Historian

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With the historian and his cousin Simms, two archetypes of American legend, we pursue the American Bride through six narratives interrelated by a rich texture of language, by the combination of myth and fact, and by the embodiment of American history, which includes the suppression of women and the distortion of the American dream into the worship of wealth and power.

Garber’s fiction has been compared in spirit to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the first of the six fantasies, “The Historian—Boston, 1850,” we meet the historian fielding questions from his young students about the meaning of history. They ask “Why?” and he answers through an analogy, the difference between his watch and a pignut—between time and the timeless. While the students opt for the watch, the historian demurs, seeing the watch as illusion and the pignut as truth. His cousin Simms, a frontiersman, later contemplates the same question, and when the historian answers through examples of direct experience, Simms has the revelation that history is not only factual records but “the memory of moments when someone was intensely alive”; it is not only the written but also the unwritten. Garber’s magical fiction bridges the gap between the two, giving the reader an experience of being intensely alive in special moments of the American past. When the historian announces his quest for a woman, Simms cogently suspects it to be for Woman, the unrealized...

(The entire section is 502 words.)