I selected the passages from March because I see in them examples of what I treasure as well as what I dislike in HF. Oddly enough the same book, even the same paragraph epitomized both ends of the HF spectrum — to my eyes. Like Mary, I found that whole first excerpt up through the word "shards" to be a marvel. It exemplified what Greenblatt said of Mantell. Brooks combined visual description with such a deep sense of time that the supposed moment of writing was not only reflected in word choices ("slough," "obelisk") but in the very character of the world the narrator was seeing and describing. Perhaps Brooks had some period photo or engraving to use as reference, but she was not merely describing it with a few period terms like a reenacter wearing a costume, she was inhabiting that world, seeing it with the worn, dashed-ideals, war-weary eyes of the moment. She truely made me feel I was seeing the place with the mentality, not just the eyes or vocabulary, of the day. And that was the ideal Greenblatt posed — writing that immerses you so completely in the era you feel it is there, all around you, a kind of hologram filling real space. That passage was the most convincing HF I have seen in years…and then it dissolved instantly. for from the "few dreamers" to "equality" and again in the entire second passage I quoted the mirage instantly evaporated. The gas light snuffed out and the eco-electic bulb of the 21 Century switched on.
I get that Brooks, in describing the Washington Monument in 62 is evoking MLK and the same place just over a century later, and I so wish she were not. From "dreamers" to, in that last passage, "black and white may one day" she so directly paraphrases King and his cadences that she destroys any sense of being in the past moment. I selected these violations of a sense of the past because I could imagine that if they arose in one of our HF books, some adults would be thrilled to see them — teaching moments conveniently embedded in a rich description of the past, just the right ideals and messages. But to me this presentism, this violation of the contract HF makes with the reader to take you away from now and carry you back into them, is precisely what HF cannot do. Paradoxically, her decision to allude to the Dream speech destroyed the dream of the past she so perfectly spun.
That’s how I read those passages — you too?