One of the things I hate most about Donald Trump is that he’s completely and irrevocably changed the way I read. Like 9/11 or the election of Barack Obama, Donald Trump’s presidency has altered the tenor and tone of entire books for me. I’ll never again be able to read a presidential biography, for example, without the specter of Trump lingering just beyond its last few pages, like the punch line to a bad fart joke. Satirical novels about reality television and dystopian fictions about the collapse of America will leave a metallic taste in my mouth, probably from all the tongue-biting I’ll have to do.
This realization, that I will forever experience a pre-Trump and a post-Trump reading life, dawned on me as I read Seattle writer Matthew Simmons’ new short-story collection, The In-Betweens. This particular collection is the permanent home for my favorite story of his, one I’ve heard him read a few times in the past. It’s titled “Americans After America,” and though the story contains roughly the same words in the same order as always, it has shifted so dramatically that I can’t quite remember how it made me feel before November 2016.
“Americans After America” begins, as many of Simmons’ stories do, with a short, declarative sentence: “And so there came a day when, as one, the Americans arrived at a thought.” And that thought is: “The Americans decided that, after all the years of American history (which they had acquired in first a handful and then a large pile of states united together for the purpose of acquiring a history) that it was time they maybe went ahead and left those states to the original owners, to let them take it back over … ”
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Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.